Tag Archives: spring

From Winter Into Spring

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It’s been a curious and disconcerting winter here in the foothills of Northern California — little rain, barely a dusting of snow, and only maybe two proper capital-s Storms all season. We’re looking at a record drought year. Farmers are scaling back their crops, people are getting nervous about their ponds and wells, and even city-dwellers are getting ready for cutbacks in their household water. Last year, our orchard was an expanse of golden-blooming mustard; this year, the grass is still dry and brown.

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But no matter how strangely skewed the seasons may be, there are still signs of Spring popping up all over, great and small… like the spectacular cotton-white clouds and delicate manzanita blossoms of a February afternoon:

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Jars of beet-infused sauerkraut fermenting away, and garlic sprouts emerging through their warm blanket of straw mulch:

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And it’s time for grafting. Here, Tom carefully splices a twig of an heirloom El Dorado pear onto a young tree. The scion wood came from Pat and Pete Enochs (of Lattitudes fame), from one of their favourite trees. If we’re lucky, the graft will take, and we’ll have a crop of our own in a few years. At right, some of our trusty grafting tools are at the ready on a makeshift table; the half-moon blade and tiny wooden mallet belonged to Papu, my grandfather, and have those worn edges and softly polished handles that only come from many decades of use and good care.

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And speaking of nearly-forgotten skills… I’m thrilled to be taking a blacksmithing class! This is one of the things I’ve wished for years that I’d learned from Papu — he could make anything from wood, metal, or spare sundry parts, but I was always especially fascinated by the wrought-iron scrollwork that decorated my grandparents’ kitchen. I’ve just barely begun to scratch the surface of the skill, but already I can see why he was so good at it — for every bit of strength and speed, it takes an equal measure of careful thought, precision, intuition.

Our first project was a drive hook, which looks simple at a glance but combines a wealth of basic techniques — tapering square and rounded points, shaping angles and curves, even some decorative elements like a bar twist and scrolled finial. (The right-angled point acts like a nail, and is driven into a post or beam.) I haven’t decided yet whether to hang it in the barn, the wine cellar, or the chicken coop!

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And, speaking of grandparents — yesterday was my Grandma Mary’s 91st birthday! My aunt and cousins came to visit from Boston, and we all had a lovely birthday dinner together, swapping bits of Harper family history and listening as Grandma told stories about growing up in the little town of Fort Morgan, Colorado. At 91, she’s still writing newspaper articles, chronicling the goings-on of family, relatives, and friends, and keeping very busy indeed — as she says, she has “all her buttons!” (She also encouraged me to start writing this blog in the first place, to tell the story of our little farm and share it with readers near and far… and of course it was Grandma Mary who taught me to knit, sew, and invest in stocks. She’s quite a lady!)

grandma91st91! Happy birthday, Grandma!

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And onward, Spring! Now if we could just have a little more rain, please… but in the mean time, I’m certainly enjoying the contrast of pink plum petals against blue-and-white sky. Yes, we’ll worry about the drought and make plans for the long dry summer ahead, but sometimes, for a few minutes, a tree full of blossoms and blissful buzzing bees is simply everything you need.

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Filed under around the farm, making things, orchard, spring

Foto Friday: Rainbow

Sometimes it feels like our little farm here is at the middle of everything — as though all the different aspects of our lives, all the different things we do, meet somewhere in the heart of the orchard.

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I teach Greek language classes for kids at the Annunciation Greek School in Sacramento. The other day, a girl in my class asked me how to say “rainbow” in Greek. I’d never run across the word “rainbow,” so we looked it up: ουράνιο τόξο, ouránio tóxo — “sky arrow.” Isn’t that the loveliest picture?

Then, as I was out in the orchard yesterday, that word popped into my head — ouránio tóxo. And, looking closer at the grass around me, I saw that it was as though one had fallen to earth.

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Red in the peach blossoms, and in this sow-thistle stalk, where a tiny village of ants and aphids have made their home…

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Orange in the calendula flowers that spring up around the little house and the garden…

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Yellow in dandelion and mustard blossoms…

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Green everywhere! — but especially in the grass that the chickens are so fond of…

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…and in the cover crop of fava beans and vetch, scrambling across the dormant garden…

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…and have I mentioned how blue the sky is!

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Sky-blue here, too, reflected in the tiny blossoms of wild speedwell. My grandfather calls this flower by its Greek name, μάτια της Παναγίας: mátia tis Panagías, “eyes of the Virgin Mary.”

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And purple, of course. This is another of my favourite tiny flowers, the kind you have to look closely to see: henbit, a relative of both nettle and mint. The long-necked purple flowers have fantastically speckled tongues, and if you pluck one very carefully and blow air gently through it from the the end that was attached to the plant, it will emit a teeny, high-pitched whistle!

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Isn’t it marvelous how a question can lead to a word that can lead to a whole new way of looking at everything around you?

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Filed under around the farm, foto friday, orchard, spring

Foto Friday: When the world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful…

We’ve been waiting and waiting (and waiting and waiting) for some serious stormy weather all winter… but now, finally, a big, drenching, delicious rainstorm has moved in! And with the rain comes a few rituals…

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…like finding your coziest pair of boots and trudging out to stomp in some puddles and see how high the clover has grown…

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….or just to admire the sudden flurry of plum blossoms crowning branches that were bare a few days ago.

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Somehow, the camellias look just as lovely spilled over the grass as they do on their stems.

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No bees out today — fingers crossed that these blossoms will hold on until the weather brightens up! But nothing is too gloomy for this sea of wild mustard…

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And there are petals everywhere, like snow.

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The orchard is especially beautiful this time of year, awash in green and gold. And it’s all connected: those weeds and wildflowers provide food and shelter for beneficial insects, pollen and nectar for our honeybees, and forage for the chickens. There are even tasty edibles for those who know where to look! (I’m always fascinated that so many people find their way to this blog via this post on horta, the greek-style wild greens my grandfather taught me to gather.)

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And one more part of the rainy-day ritual: wander back home, set the soggy shoes and coat to dry, dust off my favourite E.E. Cummings compendium, and turn to this marvelous little rainy-day poem. Just perfect.

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Filed under around the farm, foto friday, spring, Winter

Spying on Spring

I’ve been wandering with my camera lately … finding all kinds of Spring things:

bees and blue skies

miner’s lettuce and mushrooms

laundry on the line

apple blossoms shivering into eager bloom

hiking paths lined with buttercups and clover under toes…

…and I didn’t notice until I looked at the photos later that this gnarled old tree, on the way to Foresthill, had been looking back at me with equal fascination!

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Filed under beekeeping, orchard, spring, wild foods