Saturday, March 17, 2012

Housing and Food

'Inverness White' Flowering Currant
blooming along side The Flower Bed
covered with Remay to protect the
scattered Chinese Houses seed
Up close blooming 'Inverness White' Flowering Current

Last year my niece, Callie Weitzel, living in the Kansas City area, sent me the following link for checking out the nesting pair of Bald Eagles and their offspring.

My friend, Andrea Engelmann, who lives in Palm Springs just sent it to me again in response to my posting Shannon's Cooper hawk pictures.  So I am back to checking daily the happenings of the Decorah, Iowa Eagles.
This week in Sonoma County we are enjoying gentle "Winter rains" accumulating over 4 1/2" so far with more predicated.  With the rains there is ample time and opportunity for indoors activities, reading, movies, chatting with friends, watching Spring Training baseball and last but certainly not least, writing a new post.  This particular post has been germinating inside me for some while.
Housing aka bird nesting boxes

Dwight has been attending all of the bird houses here at MuRefuge.  He has removed previously built nests in the boxes.  In two of the "Blue Bird Boxes" he found roof rat nests.

When he opened the first box, two little eyes looked up at him, then the rat jumped out, almost running over my hands while I was weeding nearby.  In the other box merely the nest remained.  We learned about roof rats a few years ago when Rose's Auntie T noticed that the tops of her Meyer's lemons were being very neatly eaten in a very symmetrical pattern, a sure sign of roof rats enjoying her fruit.  This past Summer I noticed, for the first time, that our ripe Red Haven peaches had the very same pattern of consumption.  I denied that roof rats were living at MuRefuge since there has been no previous evidence.  These nests in the bird boxes abruptly brought the fact home to me.  It seems from reading in our mammal book, that bird boxes are one of the roof rats' favorite places to make nests since they are not ground dwellers like the Norway rat who likes to live in our compost bins and eat the duck food here at MuRefuge.
Other nesting boxes had nests obviously built by birds, some more beautiful than others.

And since the project spanned several weeks with refurbishing some of the boxes and all, he rechecked boxes already cleaned prior to relocating one and to his surprise found the beginnings of a new nest.  The lining was wool from one of Rose’s balls from which she loves to pull off layers and layers of the wool that we throw onto the compost bins.  An ingenious bird thought, “what fabulously soft material for my babies!”

For those of you who have visited MuRefuge, you have seen our raised beds rebuilt a few years ago using basalt blocks floored with hardware cloth.  Since much of our food is grown in this limited bed space, I have long practiced what is commonly called “companion planting” feeling very smug about my creativity and on the cutting edge of gardening.  

Dwight, being the very voracious reader he is, last Fall read 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann and thought I might be interested in the growing practices. I was fascinated and rudely awakened from my prideful state!  This book is focused on answering the question, "What was the New World like at the time of Columbus?"
Lo and behold, the “Indian farmers grow maize in what is called a milpa. The term means ‘maize field’, but refers to something considerably more complex.  A milpa is a field . . . in which farmers plant a dozen crops at once, including maize, avocados, multiple varieties of squash and beans, melon, tomatoes, chilis, sweet potato, jicama (a tuber), amaranth (a grain-like plant), and mucuna (a tropical legume).”  Milpa is a garden, if you please, where crops that are nutritionally and environmentally complementary are grown together.

On a side note here, I always have wondered when I drive down one of my favorite streets (Milpas Street) in Santa Barbara, where the name came from?  There are no maize fields but the street transects a huge Hispanic neighborhood.
Giganteus sunflowers providing a  trellis for Fortex fillet beans

My fantasy of companion planting (for a whole ecology) has grown by leaps and bounds after reading about this ancient farming practice which is so very different from the monocropping I grew up with in the Midwest.  Agribusiness continues this practice of growing vast acres of a single crop and augmenting the soil with fossil fuel amendments to kill unwanted weeds and other pests.  These toxic substances evolved out of the WWII factories that manufactured lethal warfare chemicals.  And we have all heard of the Irish potato famine which is the ultimate example of the downside of monocropping.  Zow wee!  What a stark contrast to milpa farming practices!
We wonder why blight strikes our tomato plants, aphids consume our greens, nematodes devour our carrots.  The modern thinking is to develop crops resistant to such organisms or add toxic soil amendments, or both, as well rotate crops.  My intuition, along side with my observation of my relatively small garden in 
comparison to the Indian milpa, is that if I grow synergistically compatible plants in my raised beds, I do not have to rotate so religiously what is grown in each bed.   This companion planting supports an evolving whole (healthy) ecology which over time counterbalances disease and predation here at MuRefuge.  
I have collected several resources to guide and enhance my own personal experience.  Bountiful Gardens is the seed catalog for John Jeavons’ Project of Ecology Action located in Willits, California.  Their catalog managers have developed The Vegetable Gardeners Guide Poster (BGE-1220 for $9.95 at which includes a great section on companion plants as well as a plethora of other information for the awake gardener.  Another source is Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening by Louise Riotte.
I grow lettuce and spinach in my strawberry beds; bush beans like growing there too, as well as onions.  Peppers and basil (or try any other aromatic herb, perhaps Summer Savory) love to grow together in the warmest bed in my vegetable garden.  
Leeks and celeriac root thriving together
In the vegetable garden’s permanent asparagus bed, Italian ‘Gigante’ parsley, each year started from seed in my greenhouse, is planted.  In the duck area there are two permanent raised beds with asparagus planted down the center.  Then come each May, tomato starts (this year all heirloom seeds, which are now germinating on the heat mattress with a temperature setting of 80 degrees) are interspersed with Day of the Dead marigolds which are started from seeds collected from the previous year at MuRefuge, and more ‘Gigante’ parsley.
Peach trees with comfrey
To honor my general ongoing commitment of avoiding transnational corporation products, this year when I ordered seeds I focused on purchasing only open pollinated seeds, organic and heirloom whenever possible.  And, of course, MuRefuge boasts of her numerous native plants that support a variety of creatures that have called this small piece of land home for many more years than humans have inhabited Sonoma County.
Blooming lupine near the red raspberry patch
Any of you with experience of companion planting please feel free to share in the below comment section while you

1 comment:

  1. Lovely. I love that the birds are using Rose's wool for their nests. :)