Saturday, June 04, 2011

Attempting some farming

Last year I sold my house in SF to buy some property in Sonoma county and pursue my crazy dream of having a sort of mini-farm.

Turns out that growing stuff - even just keeping existing stuff alive - is not as simple as you might think. I feel like my attempts so far could provide more than enough material for a new "City Slickers" movie. It could be called "Check out the city slickers making fools of themselves trying to farm".

In March I drove up to the property to get the propane inspected, and found several distressing puddles of goo on the ground in the orchard area. It looked like a gang of teenagers got wasted in my yard and puked all over the place.

Turns out that this is a harmless fungus that breaks down the mulch that lays on top of the soil, and that it's sort of a good thing. But it looks gross and my dog keeps sniffing it suspiciously.

Then in April the grasses and weeds had grown so tall that the house could barely be seen anymore, and we figured it would be nice for our neighbors if our house could be a bit more presentable and less like the Boo Radley house.

So we bought a professional grade weedwhacker and went to town on those grasses. Well it turns out that weedwhacking is a very inefficient way to clear three acres, and it took us an entire day to just clear around the house. We ended up having to ask a neighbor to mow the rest with a tractor, which I guess is what the non-city-slickers use.

Then we decided to plant some decorative plants in front of the house and add a new drip irrigation line to water them. But our drip system controller couldn't handle two lines, so the new one never turned on, and $300 of plants died within a week. Silly city slickers!

Then in May, we were pruning the rose bushes and I reached down to grab one of them and sliced my arm open on the surgical-quality pruning shears. I learned that pruning shears are no joke, and that slicing through skin sounds remarkably like tearing fabric.

Last learning moment was when I added new drip emitters to the new irrigation line. When I turned the water on to test them, they shot water 15 feet into the air instead of dribbling slowly into the soil. Lesson learned? There is a difference between regular emitters and pressure-compensating emitters. Who knew? I thought I was cool for figuring out how to put the emitter into the line at all... having to select the right emitter threw me for a loop.

But I gotta say, it's all worth it when you see your little plants start to blossom and grow. These are the first leaves budding on the grapevines in the spring.

It's so cool to watch them emerge from their hibernation, and then go buckwild as the days warm up. I swear I am now pruning these things back every few weeks. There are even tiny little grapes on a lot of the vines! I think that all the cuts and scrapes and blows to the ego will be forgotten when we are sitting on the patio this summer, eating our own fruit, and foolishly planning what additional stuff we will plant in the future.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Utah Canyoneering - take 4

In October I made my 4th annual pilgrimage to Utah to worship its amazing rock formations. This time, I went with friends, which made the trip even more fun. We flew to St. George, in the southwest corner of Utah, and worked our way east, across the entire state, to Moab. The plan was to drive to Escalante, which is a small town a few hours east of St. George, and spend most of the week exploring the narrow slot canyons outside of Escalante. Unfortunately, we found out after arriving that Hole in the Rock road, the backroad that gives you access to all the slot canyons, had been severely flooded in a recent storm and was closed by the county. So instead, we worked our way across the state, stopping to hike at many places along the way, spending a few days in Moab, and then driving back the way we came.

Traveling across southern Utah means driving on state highway 12, which is probably one of the most scenic roads in the world. It goes through impossible canyons, over mountains blanketed with Aspen trees, and then through tumbles of red, red rocks. We spent a lot of time gawking from the car, and had to pull over frequently for pictures.

We also did some hiking :)

Day 1: Angel's Landing trail in Zion National Park. Pretty much straight up to the top of a 2000 foot spire, and then back down again.

This (the bumpy rocks with the trees) is actually the trail.

Day 2: Navajo loop in Bryce National Park. A fun playground of hoodoos and other finger-like rock formations. BTW, Bryce is at 9000 feet, so the camping that night was COLD!

Starting the hike at the canyon rim.

Day 3: Moab! Devil's Garden train in Arches National Park. Also a fun loop trail through arches, over rock fins and other outcroppings. This is definitely the most "interactive" trail of the bunch - you get to climb over lots of rocks, and walk through arches and stuff.

Can you spot all three of us?

Day 4: Backcountry canyoneering with Desert Highlights guide company. They took us out on short notice and we had an awesome day of climbing up the side of a rock mesa, and then making our way down from the top through a series of rappels.

We also went out for dinner & drinking afterwards, which ended up being a little bit painful the next day :)

Day 5: Head back towards St. George on Highway 12, which goes through Capitol Reef National Park. A short, relaxing hike there and the discovery that Hole in the Rock road has been reopened! So we head to Escalante for the night, and plan to do a hike to one of the slot canyons the next day. On a personal note, I think that I may have fallen in love that night.

Day 6: We finally got to explore a slot canyon! I have been a big fan ever since I visited Antelope Canyon (in Arizona) in 2007. I love the swirls of sandstone and the glowing light, and the feeling like you've discovered a hidden treasure. We chose to go to Zebra Canyon, named for its stripey rock walls. Driving down Hole in the Rock road, you'd never guess that there are rocky canyons nearby.

The road is completely flat, and surrounded by prairie and tumbleweed. We parked the car and headed towards the canyon, through a flat grassland, and then into a large, flat, sandy wash. Still no sign of rocks. After about three miles, there were finally some rocky walls rising up along the sides of the wash. We headed towards one of these rocky outcroppings, and sure enough, there was a big crack in the rock - it was Zebra Canyon!

And it was full of water. Remember back at the car, when Madi said "What if it's still flooded from last week?", and I was like "Nah, I'm sure it'll be fine by now". Well, I was totally wrong, but we made it all the way out there, so we weren't gonna turn back. We stripped off our socks and shirts and packs, and waded into the water. It was freezing. And it kept getting deeper, until we were in up to our belly buttons. And then we had to turn sideways and shuffle because the canyon got too narrow to walk forwards normally.

Just a little bit of water....

But the narrow canyon, and the swirls in the sandstone... I was in heaven. So worth it.

This was the part after we got out of the water.

We emerged from the water and got to scramble up over a few tricky obstacles. One requiring a climb up a crack in the rock, and one requiring getting around a deep pothole full of water. And then we could go no further, as the next obstacle was too sheer a wall for us to climb without any special gear. So we returned, grinning, across the obstacles, back through the belly-high water, to the entrance of the canyon, where we had left our packs. And then through the maze of washes and across the prairie to the car.

That evening, we headed back through Zion and into St George. Checked into a hotel and cleaned up and got ready for the flight back home the next day.

Day 7: Took it easy, packed up our stuff, and headed to the airport. I probably could have stayed another week, but I guess every good trip has to come to an end. That was my 4th consecutive year of going to Utah in the fall, so hopefully I'll keep the momentum and go back for more next year.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The first weekend

This is the beginning of what will surely be a long, drawn out saga of home improvement. Brace yourselves.

In case you missed my last post, I bought a house. And some land. Not that much, but enough to keep a city girl pretty busy. It's three and a quarter acres. And a three bedroom house from the 70s. And when I say that it's from the 70s, WOW, it is really from the 70s. See for yourself:

Yup, this really is a stone wall in my bathroom.

And the cutesy country kitchen.

When I arrived at the house on Friday afternoon, I have to admit that I was a bit overwhelmed. The house smelled funny, was grimy, and full of spiderwebs. I got mouse poop in my hair at some point while mopping bird poop off the floors. It was not a pretty sight. For a while there, I was cursing myself for jumping into this thing for which I was obviously not prepared. Also, it was really, really HOT while I was trying to do all this poop-mopping, so you know, that didn't really help things.

You can't see them in the picture, but spiderwebs and animal poops abound.

But then I got some sleep and some friends arrived the next day, and things got better. We got the kitchen into a not-so-disgusting state, and even got the faucet working. We went to the river to while away the hot days. And by the end of the weekend, the place was a bit more livable, and I felt like maybe I could do this thing after all.

Oh, and even though the house is grody and the land is neglected, there is still quite a lot of cuteness and potential. Once again, see for yourself:

A couple of grape vines.

The cutest little pears you've ever seen, right?

Lots of bees & hummingbirds visiting these flowering vines.

So now that there's a garbage can and a working faucet, I need to get to work on the land. Next up: mowing, tilling & irrigation, oh my!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

OMG, OMG, I actually bought the farm!

I've been silent on this blog for a while, but something exciting has just happened in Julieland. Two days ago, I became the official owner of a piece of property in western Sonoma county, just outside of Healdsburg. Yup, it's 3.25 acres of countryside with a modest little 3 bedroom house on it. And now its ALL MINE!!! And I am gonna grow all kinds of delicious stuff on it.

At this point you might be saying, "Excuse me, WTF are you talking about?!". And you would be right to say that. So let me back up a bit and explain.

Most people, after they graduate from college, they get a job and dream about normal things like getting promoted or starting a family or buying a sweet car. I dreamed about having a farm. I don't know why. I just did. While driving to Tahoe, I would stare out the window at the country homes in the foothills. When visiting wine country and buying fresh fruit at a farmstand, I was jealous of the folks selling their cherries and tomatoes. I have a weird, inexplicable desire to build my own house and have friends over to sit on my patio and drink lemonade made from lemons that I just picked. I'm gonna stop there, before this gets too cheesy. You get the idea.

Point is that after looking casually for about 5 years, I finally decided to make it happen. I found this property and immediately saw the potential. It was perfect for the things that I wanted to do: I can plant trees and a veggie garden, I can fix up the house, and the property is not so big that it is unmanageable for one person. Perfect! It even has a bit of a view of the mountains.

This is my new backyard. Also, see the tiny bit of mountain in the distance?

So here goes. The beginning of a new adventure! I'll be posting updates here in case you want to follow along. I know, I know, you can't contain your excitement, right? So here's a little preview for you. This is the front of the house. It was built in 1979, so it's a bit dated, but it's sturdy. I hope to modernize it quite a bit in the next few years.

Lola has to stay tied to the fence, so she doesn't run off to chase varmints.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy Holidays

There are so many things that I dislike about the holiday season:
  • obligatory gifting
  • holiday decor
  • stressed-out people yelling at each other (or me)
  • long lines at the grocery store
But of course I enjoy the days off, and I have to admit that I look forward to the annual Family Quality Time on Christmas Eve. Here's this year's commemorative photo. Hope everyone got to spend some Quality Time with their friends & family too.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Heartwrenchingly Beautiful

Yup, that's right. I used the phrase "heartwrenchingly beautiful" as the title of this post. Because even though I hate to admit it (I have a reputation to maintain here), when I look at the amazing scenery in southern Utah, it makes my heart actually hurt.

It's not my fault! It would happen to anyone, I swear!

First of all, the stuff that Nature has produced in southern Utah is mind-blowingly beautiful.

There are gigantic chunks of tectonic plates jutting thousands of feet up into the sky. I'm talking like 75 mile long, jagged pieces of earth. It looks like those plates that go along a stegosaurus's spine.

I got this picture from because it shows the San Rafael Swell nicely.

There are swirling canyons of red sandstone. Rocks that glow in red and orange and purple. Rocks, people. Crazy colored rocks.

I took this last year at "the wave" in southern Utah.

There are arches and fins and needles and all kinds of geologic oddities.

This year in Arches.

And giant expanses of desolate desert, where you might not encounter another person for days.

Arches National Park.

And then there are cute little pockets of inhabitable land, where agriculture is possible, and people have set up farms and ranches. And again, your heart just hurts to see the perseverance of the farmers against the backdrop of the Dr. Seuss-like landscape.

This picture isn't mine either. It's from

So basically, I am in love. With the ridiculous rocks and the river-carved canyons and the way that millions of years of the earth's geologic activity is so shamelessly laid out on display.

For this year's third annual pilgrimage to this holy land, I chose to go canyoneering around Moab. I signed up for some guided trips, and spend 3 days hiking, scrambling, rappelling, and otherwise navigating rocky canyons. Some highlights were:

A counterbalanced rappel off of a large arch. This means that the rope was not tied to anything at the top - having one person rappel off of either side of the arch is more than enough to keep the rope in place.

Counter-balanced rappel off of a giant arch. I'm on the left :)

Trying to avoid giant potholes full of water in Granary Canyon.

The guide fell in!

Scrambling through "Fat Man's Misery" in the Fiery Furnace, a rocky section of Arches National Park.

This was really a tight spot. And tough to shimmy through.
AND there is nothing below you to hold you up.

It was actually a bit hard to leave this time. I wanted to stay and play more. I started to become curious as to whether I could maybe even move out there someday. Would I miss city life too much, or would I maybe find that the stores and the events and the restaurants don't mean as much to me as I thought? Would I miss the hustle or forget all about it? Bored or fulfilled? Not sure. But as I get older, I can imagine staying out there more and more. Definitely something to keep in mind when things get hectic around here, and financial obligations feel stifling, that there's always Utah.

Arches NP with the La Sal Mountains in the background.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Just another day in Paradise

I know, I just quoted a lame Phil Collins song, and I'm sorry if it's now stuck in your head or you're reminiscing about watching him perform it at the Grammys many years ago like my brother and I did when we were kids and didn't yet realize that the Grammys suck.


Since this whole "not working" thing is soooo rough, I decided that a trip to Maui was in order. So the BF and I went for a long weekend of snorkeling, poolside reading, and yummy dinner eating. I know, life is hard, right? Maybe I can justify the ridiculously indulgent month of September by declaring it my "Birthday Month"? Instead of having a birthday party and concentrating all the birthday celebrations into one day, I chose to spread them out over the course of the month. There, that sounds reasonable, right?

Point being, I spent some of the latter part of the month lounging around on Maui, and I will now proceed to rub it in your face.


We stayed at the Makena Resort, which is located on one of my favorite beaches on Maui. This beach has a relaxed, uncrowded vibe and offers great snorkeling and turtle-spotting. So we did some of that.

Also went on a boat trip to Molokini, the tiny island off the coast which is actually the rim of a submerged volcano. It's a marine sanctuary, so lots of great fish-watching. Our captain had set up some fishing poles on the back of the boat, with lures dragging in the water, and one of them caught a Mahi-Mahi, which we got to reel in! Unfortunately no photo, since we were busy reeling in the fish.

And of course, we ate well.

Delicious fish at Capische.

So really, it was pretty darn nice. Not a bad way to finish up the Birthday Month of Being Ridiculously Indulgent. Now I think I need to get back to basics by maybe spending October camping and/or doing some hard labor. I'll keep you posted.

Gratuitous photo of a Banyan tree, because I was pleased with how this pic turned out.