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Foxtail Farm Blog

Not Quite There

Peter Berg

It has been a couple of months since my last posting and I am not quite open for business, as I have experienced a few setbacks in my efforts to get the B&B up and running.

Smoke plume behind our house - Railroad Fire

Smoke plume behind our house - Railroad Fire

First and foremost, has been the hot, dry summer and the number of fires in the area. Two times this summer Cheryl and I have been packed and ready to evacuate. The most recent was the Railroad fire that got to within 1-1/2 miles of our property. Focusing on where the fire is and isn’t becomes an obsession for me as I follow scanner reports, local news coverage, MODIS mapping, air-traffic radar, sheriffs department Nixle texts, and a local Facebook group that provides up to the minute reports from observers, scanners, and a variety of other sources. I tend to not focus on much else until the fire danger passes. At one point we had air tankers (including the 747 VLAT) right over our house making final approaches to dump retardant on the fire. For us it was the redneck air show – pull up a chair and grab a beer!

747 VLAT (Very Large Air Tanker) on final approach to the fire.

747 VLAT (Very Large Air Tanker) on final approach to the fire.

Redneck Air Show

Redneck Air Show

Second have been water issues, which I have repeatedly attempted to address. The county has strict limits on what can be considered drinking water for a B&B and with all the contaminants from the smoke and particulates getting into our storage tank, the exceptionally hot temperatures this summer, and our naturally hard water I have been hard pressed to get a passing test. This had led me to getting a water softener as well as a UV filter and a few other attachments to make the water safe. I expect this set-up to be installed next week. The water test has been the main obstacle and once that has been satisfied then county inspections can proceed.

We have had several guests this summer that have helped with food and environment testing along with making suggestions for improvements and I have booked the first two weekends in October for a couple of soft openings. The good news is we are expecting to have another wet winter that will again result in some spectacular waterfall activity in the park for the spring. This alone will increase attendance and for me, hopefully bookings. If you are planning on coming to Yosemite at all next year, look to late May and early June for your visit. That is when the waterfalls will be at peak. This year however the waterfalls were good through July and into August.

Colder weather came this week for a brief show before temperatures jump back to the 80’s for a bit. We had a storm yesterday that dropped about an inch of rain and left 6-8 inches of snow in the high sierras temporarily closing Tioga pass. The cooler temperatures allowed me to get back outside to work on improving the look of the property. This week I was inspired by what Rick and Cathy Middlested have done with their property.

Rick was and still is a customer of Clark Security and still does lock work in retirement. Rick rekeyed our locks for the B&B to allow individual rooms to be keyed differently and still have access through the main front door. Rick and Cathy have 15 acres and have transformed their property into what I can only describe as “park like” with all the brush removed (including the poison oak) and all the tree limbs trimmed up. It is beautiful and also fire safe. That inspiration and the cooler temperatures had me outside for a couple of days doing some cleanup that inevitably led to once again another outbreak of Poison Oak! Yes, I know what it looks like and I know what to do if exposed, you simply cannot clear brush without coming into contact with it. Arrgh!

We have had an incredible harvest year as every one of the 200+ plants we put in has produced. Our experience back in San Diego with plants always seemed to be mixed with the poor soil and water rationing but here in Mariposa everything grows! Along with our harvest, our chickens have been providing us with a ton of eggs. Trying to figure out what to do with a dozen eggs every two days has led to us having eggs for lunch and dinner as well as in between snacks. I am egged out! Good news, egg production will soon slow as the chickens begin to molt and their winter feathers come in. This at least will provide some meals without eggs on the menu.

Winter is coming, all the signs are there and it will bring welcome relief to the heat we experienced this summer and I for one cannot wait.

Winter Is Coming!

Winter Is Coming!

Ship... Out Of Danger?

Peter Berg

So it appears. After 6 intense days the many fire companies fighting the Detwiler Fire are slowly bringing it under control. It will be several weeks yet before total containment, mop-up, and investigations are all completed but we are safe and out of any immediate danger.

The fire started Sunday and quickly grew to over 74,000 acres moving at a rate of 6 miles a day feeding on dry vegetation and beetle kill pines. The conditions for this type of conflagration exist all over the sierras due to 5 years of drought and then an extremely wet winter. The fire on Wednesday threatened to overrun the historic town of Mariposa and was saved only through the heroic efforts of the fire fighters and air tanker support. At one point a DC-10 tanker dumped fire retardant directly on the town proper.

Unfortunately many families have lost everything and as of this writing 58 homes were lost and another 60 structures destroyed. Many individuals, churches, and businesses are pulling together to help not only these families but also over 4000 evacuees sheltering in several evacuation centers throughout the area.

Cheryl and I spent Tuesday evening packing and preparing for evacuation. Having done this twice before in San Diego, I can only tell you that it is an extremely stressful time full of anxiety and uncertainty. This time things were a bit more complicated as in addition to ourselves, our dogs and possessions, we had to craft a plan for how to move 7 chickens. We were fortunate to have a place to go as Courtney and Tyler offered their home and backyard as a refuge. I wasn’t sure if the chickens and dogs or Cheryl and I would get the backyard. Luckily we were spared that answer.

The fire is still burning to north and continues to threaten another gold rush town, Coulterville. There are currently 3834 fire personnel, 478 fire engines, 68 fire crews, 9 air tankers, 14 helicopters, 87 bulldozers, and 61 water tenders all working hard to put the fire out.

In our short time living in this area there have been several fires in our vicinity including 3 just a week before the Detwiler fire started and all previous fires were put out quickly leading both Cheryl and I to believe that this was how things were done here. This fire however defied our expectations and we knew it was different when we read a quote from one of the firefighters who stated, “I have never seen a fire do that” when referring to how it jumped and moved to another area.

Living here you understand the requirements for protecting your home and Cheryl and I have made it a priority to create a defensible perimeter and reduce the chances for a fire to spread and come close to the house. It requires a consistent effort clearing vegetation, trimming trees, and removing weeds and wild grasses. Sometimes however those efforts are thwarted by the unpredictability of fire.

We were lucky this time.

This was the view from our house looking west on Sunday evening about 8:00 PM. After this point views of the fire as it grew were obscured by smoke.

This was the view from our house looking west on Sunday evening about 8:00 PM. After this point views of the fire as it grew were obscured by smoke.

A Taste Of Honey

Peter Berg

And no I am not referring to the song by Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass - although I did listen to it while writing this blog entry.

What we have done is harvest our first batch of Honey! Nearly 1-1/2 years from getting our first Nuc we have 10 frames fully laden with honeycomb. Cheryl removed 4 frames today and since we do not yet own an extractor we were forced to harvest the honey in the traditional manner.

This means scraping the honey and wax from the frame into a food grade plastic bucket and then pouring the contents into a 5-gallon paint strainer that separates the honey from the wax by retaining the wax and allowing the honey to slowly drip through into another bucket. It appears (best guess) that we will end up with about 10 pounds of honey.

Now to the taste, I have tasted many different types of processed store bought honey as well as locally grown organic honey. The taste is very much influenced by the available pollen. We had a mixture of clover and lavender and perhaps several other plants in the near vicinity. The taste I can only describe as a buttery, caramel flavored honey. It is absolutely spectacular!

I am sure that there are many reasons to come to our little place in the Sierra National forest (perhaps Yosemite) but if there was one main reason to come, it would be this honey! So good!

One frame with Honeycomb on both sides

One frame with Honeycomb on both sides

Scraping the honeycomb into the bucket

Scraping the honeycomb into the bucket

A bucket of honey and honeycomb

A bucket of honey and honeycomb

Separating the honey from the wax

Separating the honey from the wax

Tasting the honey! Mmmm so good!

Tasting the honey! Mmmm so good!

It's Hot, Radiation Hot!

Peter Berg

Temperatures have been in the mid to high 90’s (with some triple digit temps) for the last 4 weeks and so hot that our newest resident had to don his protective lead lined suit to ward off the dangerous radiation. That’s right, Box’s Rods and Rails has the Man of Steel keeping watch on premises and all decked out in his kryptonite suit.

And in other news…

We took in our first harvest!

Cheryl harvested some several zucchini, Ronde de Nice (a French zucchini), beets, and some pickling cucumbers and I picked one cherry tomato – I was just doing my share of the work. Anyway, in the weeks to come we should have hundreds of tomatoes, a lot more beets and squash, and pickling cucumbers. I see some canning and pickling in our future.

We also harvested some wild blackberries and Cheryl and her mom made blackberry jam. This year we are getting to the berries earlier in order to harvest them before the bears do.

Honey! Besides our garden and the berry bushes producing, the bees are kicking it out. We have plans to harvest the honey the old fashioned way. Much more on this later!

I am excited that we are finally starting to see some results from all of the work. We have already incorporated our early harvest into our meal planning which is forcing us to get out of our food rut of going to the same choices.

As a side note, we thought today that we might have had our first egg from the chickens. One of the chickens sounded off this morning and we thought YES fresh eggs! But alas no - soon though, we hope. I can see it now, a fresh omelet with sun-dried tomatoes, toast with fresh honey or wild blackberry jam. That sounds like a good breakfast.

So what’s happening with the B&B?

I am playing the waiting game on the B&B. I have submitted the application for the TOT certificate and have had the water tested and I am waiting on the septic test and once that comes back okay we then need to contact the county health, building, and planning departments for their inspections. All the prep work has been done for the inspections including the completion of the handrails. Assuming all the inspections go well, we will be ready to open the doors. Still targeting late July and fingers are crossed.

The last word on Poison Oak

I know I know it’s a fixation. It seems that the stuff that has caused me the most irritation is what gets most of my attention. Anyway I sprayed the oak for the second time and found that my initial spraying from a month ago had pushed back the perimeter and that is encouraging! We may yet find our way clear to eradicating the nasty stuff. It will however require a lot of Round Up Pro and rubber gloves!

Getting back to the heat. There is a high-pressure system sitting over the whole western U.S. and there appears to be no relief in sight. The impact of this is dry conditions and fires. We have had thus far 4 fires in our vicinity. We have taken all the precautions by trimming the weeds, clearing the lower branches and brush for a 200’ perimeter. The heat has also changed my routine on when I work outside – early mornings and evenings when the sun is low and temperatures are more manageable.

So I have determined to start making breakfasts for lunch when I am inside during the heat of the day. I need to practice. I recently made eggs benedict and still need to improve on the benedict sauce, everything else in the preparation turned out fine. I have had my mother-in-law find me recipes from all over the Internet and collect them on Pinterest. Everything from savory to spicy to sweet along with vegetarian and vegan and of course everything is unapologetically gluten free. Today I am looking to improve on my second attempt at gluten free Cinnabon cinnamon roles. Probably not the best choice for lunch but tasty nonetheless!

Next post… something made with our local honey and a full report on our harvest technique with pictures.

It Was A Busy Week At Foxtail Farm

Peter Berg

Posts installed on the back stairs

Posts installed on the back stairs

In my effort to improve the look and meet residential code we called in some outside help.

On Wednesday 47th Street Carpet One replaced all the carpets in the house. To prepare for the install I spent all day Tuesday moving most everything out of closets and finding a place to stash the stuff. Cheryl conveniently found that this was a good day to be on the road. We are vacating the master bedroom to make that available for B&B guests and taking a smaller bedroom closer to the kitchen, so that meant moving beds, dressers, night stands, etc. In total this felt a lot like getting ready for a house move except no cardboard boxes. The offset to all that work was that I found some things that had been missing since we moved from San Diego 1-1/2 years ago.

Residential code requires handrails for all interior and exterior stairs. Now the interior is not a problem as we only have one floor but outside we have 3 separate staircases all requiring that we have handrails installed. Lawson Construction was here on Friday with their sub-contractor installing the 15 posts which were all 8 feet in length and it appears at the moment that the handrails will be about 60 inches high which for me wouldn’t be a problem. You see Cheryl refers to me as Monkey Man not because I have a 37-inch reach (which I do) it is because I can scratch the back of my knees without bending over. Can you? In case you are wondering, the posts will be cut down so that the handrails will meet the code requirement of 34-38 inches.

Saturday was when the real fun began. I have had on my list of things to do to a major donation run and this was the day. We had some big items that we needed to get out of the garage and we thought that we could make one stop at the Habitat for Humanity Restore in Mariposa. One of those items was a shower door assembly I had removed a while ago from one of the bathrooms. Well as it turns out Habitat already had 20 shower doors, hadn’t sold even one, and did not want ours. Another item was an oak kitchen table we had received as a wedding gift from our grandparents. Habitat did not want that either. But we had another option, the Mariposa SPCA had a thrift shop and took donations and if that didn’t work they were adjacent to the Mariposa landfill. The SPCA took the table and before we had even left their lot, had it sold. I was secretly hoping that they wouldn’t take the shower door assembly as I had visions of launching that into the landfill from the back of the truck, but they were gracious enough to take the doors. Oh well, I will find other ways to be an eight year boy again.

Saturday wasn’t over. We spent nearly all afternoon moving Ursula’s run from the front of the house to the back. This is a 10 foot by 30 foot galvanized metal enclosure with two roof sections. Not something you can pick up and carry. It required some disassembly and some landscape modifications to get it positioned properly. You may ask, why the move? Well we had a local friend tell us that bears will go after chickens because they will eat their food. They will rip the hardware cloth right off the run to get in and kill the chickens in the process. Now the black bears in our area are active in the day time and I was not worried about them getting at the chickens during the night. They might knock over the coop but would not likely break into it. What we needed was an early warning system should anything approach the run (and by proximity that could include the orchard or garden). Ursula to the rescue! She will bark at Turkey Vultures flying hundreds of feet in the air and so would certainly give us warning should a bear or any other animal come close. Ursula’s sire (we were told) once chased and tree’d a black bear and then started chewing the tree to knock it down so you see Ursula has it in her blood.

Sunday was a weird day. It started out cold for mid-June, low 40’s. In fact, we were close to the 1919 record low for that day of 38 degrees. The weather was calling for rain late in the afternoon so we needed to get started early. Our goal Sunday was to weed whack a mile of trail through our property (carefully avoiding the Poison Oak). We loaded up all our gear into the tractor, a gallon of fuel for the gas-powered weed whacker and 6 batteries for the electric one, plus line and cartridges, clippers, etc. and set out on the trail. I was the Marine force taking aim at the native population defending the trail using the gas-powered equipment to cut a wide swath through the nearly waist high defenders. Cheryl was regular army doing clean-up operations and managing supply lines (driving the tractor). We ran into some tricky spots but for the most part made good progress. Near the upper end of trail, Cheryl ran out of batteries and decided to return to the house for lunch and to recharge. She left me with a full tank of gas which was all I needed to finish about 100 yards of trail. Easy enough. This last part of the trail (as I remembered later) was a section that always was wet even in the driest conditions. So when I hit the last bastion of defenders, they sprung their trap, a swampy morass of waist high, wet grass that bogged me down. I battled for a good 30 minutes and they were holding their own until at last I broke through and made for the top gate to the trail and here is where they left me with one last surprise. Poison Oak plants hidden in the grass and yes it was unavoidable, I stepped (whacked) those land mines and most certainly exposed myself to my arch-evil nemesis, the green death of horrible rashes. In the end, it was a hard-won victory and to avoid the potential rash I donned sterilized rubber gloves to remove my clothes. Me naked sporting just a pair of rubber gloves is not a picture I am prepared to share on this blog as humorous as that might be.

I mentioned that Sunday was a weird day.  We did get our rain with the continued cold temperatures resulting in a June frost and snow on Chowchilla mountain which is visible from our back yard. If you can believe it, this coming Sunday, the temperature is expected to reach 100 degrees.

June 12 - Snow on Chowchilla Mountain

June 12 - Snow on Chowchilla Mountain

Closer To Being In Business! - The Update

Peter Berg

It has been a while since the last post and I have a lot to report on along with several photos.

I received my paperwork from LegalZoom and Foxtail Farm LLC is now official with the State of California. I still expect to be open around the end of July if I can finish some of the code upgrades most specifically the handrails for the three stairways coming up to the house.

Cheryl was on vacation last week and helped me get a bunch of stuff done including rescuing about 150 tadpoles from our swimming pool. She used a skimmer net and put them into a bucket before emptying them into our seasonal pond. The hope is that they will be frogs before the pond evaporates away in a few weeks.

Tadpoles in a bucket

Tadpoles in a bucket

Cheryl also finished planting the garden and some additional crops on the hugels. We have added cucumbers, squash, sunflowers, beets, corn, onions, rhubarb, shallots, and a whole bunch of herbs into the ‘chicken’ herb garden. She also planted mint and nasturtiums around the chicken run.

Garden planted!

Garden planted!

Herb garden for the Chickens (and us)

Herb garden for the Chickens (and us)

Squash plants on Hugel #1

Squash plants on Hugel #1

I started two new hugels on the property which will be on the hill across from the solar panels. These will be hugels 7,8, and possibly 9, 10, and 11 – we hope to plant table grapes there next season and if that works out possibly wine grapes. Not that I have any aspiration for making wine as it seems to be a great deal of work for what return we might have. I think I would rather drink wine and watch the grapes grow.

I also continued work on the stone walls in the front yard with the hope that I could find a bunch more rocks from digging the hugels unfortunately for the first time in digging holes on our property, there were no stones large enough to add the stone walls. Looks like I’ll need to find a new place to dig.

The wall project with Lavender planted and new fill

The wall project with Lavender planted and new fill

With everything now drying out we were able to clear a bunch of the native population (weeds) from the property specifically along the driveway which has dramatically improved the look. I have now reached an impasse as I need to kill some Poison Oak before I can finish “whacking.” And Poison Oak and I have a (let’s call it) poor history.

This past weekend we had a family friend stay with us and we all went to Yosemite on Saturday. Rachel and I hiked the Panorama Trail from Glacier Point down to the valley and we met Cheryl coming up the Mist Trail. There was so much water that there were waterfalls where they have never been before and the big falls, Illilouette, Nevada, and Vernal were spectacular! This was Rachel’s first time to the park and I made sure to give her one of the best possible experiences by hiking 8.3 miles down roughly 3000 feet. I remember doing this my first time with Morgan and Tyler and at the end calling for a wheelchair. Rachel to her credit overcame fear of heights, water (the Mist Trail below Vernal was like hiking through a tropical rainstorm), and crowds of people coming up the trail. I believe she too would have liked to have had a ride for that last mile.

Nevada Fall from the Mist Trail

Nevada Fall from the Mist Trail

One of the benefits from staying on the farm is the chance to experience new things and we continued on Sunday with a visit to downtown Mariposa (the big city), Rachel also got in some weekend tractor time digging up Manzanita stumps, and the experience of holding the chickens while nursing some very sore muscles. It’s all part of the tour, the sign up line forms on the left.

There is now a Facebook page for Foxtail Farm and I have posted several photos and videos from the farm and from our hike – check them out at https://www.facebook.com/FoxtailFarmBedandBreakfast/

Next up is the Poison Oak. For those that have read the very early posts on this blog know that when we first moved here I had Poison Oak 10 times in 12 months and yes, I do know what Poison Oak looks like (now). So I have purchased a backpack sprayer and massive amounts of herbicide with the promise of killing all the oak. Now the dilemma is this, I need to get close enough to spray and that means being in some cases a few inches away from the plants. With my ability to get Poison Oak by watching it on TV, do I put on a hazmat suit to spray? Or do I promise Cheryl a foot massage and have her do it this coming weekend? Hmmm, tough choice.

Procrastination

Peter Berg

I used to spend hours in front of a computer playing games, working in Photoshop, sometimes doing stuff for work, etc. In my opinion, these were hours well spent but it made it difficult to get projects done. Cheryl would ask me to fix this or help her do that and I was very good at coming up with excuses as to why now would not be a good time. I was the poster child for procrastination.

How things have changed!

Now I have a daily list of things I must get done. You both may have read about that on a previous post. Now when I get asked to do this or that it goes on “the list” and I get it done. There is a great sense of satisfaction to making things happen. And accomplishing things everyday just feels great!

Now the downside.

I hate leaving the house/property since I feel that it is a missed opportunity to work on projects and tasks. Weird Huh? I suppose that when I get a lot of the projects completed and I feel that things are in good shape, I’ll think differently. Who knows.

As to the B&B, these completed projects and tasks are bringing to me closer to opening day which I am predicting will happen late July. I only wish that I would have found my way clear to understanding what I wanted to do last October as I would have been up and running now. Ah well. Time to get up from the computer and get the tasks done for the day. Because if I get everything on my list done, I get a reward. Beer!

I Am Running Low On Rocks

Peter Berg

Not really – there are plenty of rocks available it is just that I need to forage and harvest more to find enough of the “right” rocks to build a third stone wall at the front of our house. Third you say? Yes, the idea came from my son when he said that the flagstone wall didn’t really work with the other two “local” stone walls and when I mentioned this idea to Cheryl it was as if the choice to NOT do it suddenly disappeared.

Once that decision had been made I began to disassemble the flagstone wall. Okay, so what do you do with all that flagstone? Why of course I should pave the walking areas in the orchard. It will be “fun” just like putting together a puzzle just without the picture. And as a bonus, I get my weight lifting workout.

There is one wrinkle in all of this and it is not finding rocks (although that is the topic for today), it is putting in a sprinkler system and having one line run under the soon to be third stone wall. Now it should be mentioned that I have never put in a sprinkler system. I have on occasion repaired sprinkler heads but I have feeling this will be a bit more challenging. So I did some research.

I looked at the traditional method of installation with PVC but as it so happens I need to trench the PVC pipe down 18”. That is not going to happen, although it would give me more rocks for third wall, the labor to do that by hand would take weeks. Additionally, we need to attach this system to an outdoor faucet and the PVC system is not an appropriate choice.

Amazon, Lowes, Home Depot, and others sell this Rain Bird kit 32ETI which has 6 sprinklers heads will cover up to 3000 sq.ft., can be installed in an afternoon, and attaches to an outdoor faucet. All good, until you read the reviews (horror stories). All the reviews say if you have rocks this could take many hours to install. Okay what is our next choice?

I found this other product called Lawnbelt and it too comes as a kit (actually, multiple kits) and attaches to an outdoor faucet. I checked out their site and it looks good (although not many reviews) until you read the header – “sorry at this time we are backordered on kits.” What one kit, two kits, no all kits. When I contacted them I found out that their manufacturer had a fire in his warehouse and they lost their entire spring order of Lawnbelt hose.

Can I just go out and buy some parts and make this up as I go? It seems to be what we do. I would ask for advice from my two followers but I know them both and with absolute certainty I know that neither of them has put in a sprinkler system.

You Tube here I come!

The front of the house with the flagstone wall removed

The front of the house with the flagstone wall removed

Another view

Another view

If You Give A Mouse A Cookie

Peter Berg

He’s going to want a glass of milk. If you give him a glass of milk, he’ll ask for a straw… You know the story.

Anyway, I painted the back bedroom yesterday covering up what can only be described as sort of a yellowish-orange color. We had selected a color called “Onion” which when it dried was sort of that light caramelized onion color. It was a nice change.

Unfortunately, the comforter and pillow shams didn’t match anymore, not to mention the sheets, pillow cases etc. Our solution was to switch the bed linens from another room to the back bedroom and put the back bedroom linens into the other room. So far so good.

In painting the room however, the previous painters had been a we bit sloppy. What I mean by that is they had inadvertently splashed a few drops here and there of the yellowish-orange color on the ceiling. No problem, I’ll go back later and paint those out with some ceiling flat white.

Well it turns out that the ceiling in that room is not white so I went to the local True Value to pick up some paint chips to try and match the color of the ceiling. Now True Value is not around the corner it is in Oakhurst eleven miles away (which by the way is the closet town). And to do this right, I must get the paint chips (11 miles), come home (22 miles), match the color and return to True Value (33 miles) to pick up the paint and come home again (44 miles). The color which I hope to only have to touch up the ceiling is called “Snow Owl.” I’ll save my rant on paint colors for another day.

I am home, I have the paint and Cheryl tells me that the en suite bathroom wall color was originally chosen to match the bed linens which I have already moved to another bedroom. Now I come to find out that I’ll need to re-paint that bathroom and I’ll need to go back to True Value for more paint chips.

Sigh.

Paperwork

Peter Berg

Or sitting in front of the computer taking care of business

For all I have read regarding a B&B there appears to be a good deal of computer time involved. Keeping track of revenues, expenditures, writing blog posts (or posts of every kind – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), other marketing communications, and collecting and paying sales tax just to name a few.

I had hoped that when I left my previous job that I could avoid the “sitting at a desk” trap and it appears that running a B&B is just like any business and requires a good amount of time as a desk jockey.

What is interesting is how I have switched from spending so much time answering business emails that in the long run accomplished very little in my view to performing physical tasks around the property that have a lasting result. It is so much more satisfying to see all the accomplishments and to know that I am moving forward in achieving my goals. The other main difference is that I am working for me.

Paperwork, I must find a way to streamline the work and minimize my time in the chair and not by hiring someone to do it. So please share your opinions and I will entertain all suggestions from both of my 2 followers.

The Garden Goes In!

Peter Berg

Two days ago we completed the irrigation project for the garden and orchard and I am thrilled with the result. We have enough water pressure to drive all drip lines which as you know from a previous post was a concern and it proved that while we are not fluid engineers, we can make it up as we go along.

In the orchard, we put in 50ft ½” drip lines for each hugel and in the garden, we put in 9 ¼” lines each 15’ in length. Yesterday, we put in 16 rosemary plants along the garden perimeter, 150 tomato plants on hugels 4,5 and 6, and 13 lavender plants in the bed in front of the house. We still have onions, shallots, garlic, rhubarb, cucumbers, squash, sunflowers, sage, mint, basil, thyme, dill, oregano, and a lot more lavender (like 25 more plants) to go.

You might ask why so much lavender? In addition to the pleasant aroma, lavender also repels moths, scorpions, fleas, flies, and mosquitoes. We will be able to harvest it and tie into bouquets and place that inside around the house.

But 150 tomato plants? We were trying to germinate 168 seeds but a few did not sprout. Back to the question. Our plan is to can a good majority, eat some fresh, and likely dry the remainder. Plus tomatoes are one crop that the Gophers will not touch.

As we gear up to finish the garden we need to be cognizant of rabbits and deer. While the orchard is protected the garden at this point is not. I have been researching how to ward off these real threats to our hard work and discovered a great new product called MePee. Yes, that is what you think it is, if you are a human, and eat meat, MePee will smell to a deer like there is a predator nearby. It also, surprising acts like a good fertilizer, so bonus points for that and for the extra special prize it reduces the amount of water going into the septic system. Ding, Ding, Ding, we have a winner!

Now the real question is how will the B&B guests feel about this? I guess an opportunity for another future post.

The start of our lavender farm

The start of our lavender farm

Our irrigation hook up for the orchard and garden

Our irrigation hook up for the orchard and garden

Why Foxtail Farm?

Peter Berg

Okay, some of you (oh right, I have 2 followers and they are family), well for those who are reading back posts, you are probably wondering how we came up with Foxtail Farm as the name for our property. And even if you weren’t wondering, I am going to tell you anyway. First a little background.

When Cheryl and I lived in San Diego we had a lawn the size of a postage stamp and like everything else we made the best of it. We ended up pulling up all the grass in our back yard and planted edibles – fruit trees and vegetables. Our neighbors probably wondered about us, but they were already doing that anyway so this action probably came as no surprise. Eventually, San Diego began to wear on us we lived in neighborhood of high end track houses where houses were separated by as much as 12’ and where the population explosion and traffic were becoming a nuisance. And on top of it all we wanted more property to put under cultivation.

We began looking for property in Northern California and after several months of searching we found a nice little place in Mariposa, 98 Acres and a move in ready house. After a few months, we asked for some suggestions on a name for the property which quickly became a competition of who in the family could come up with the best name.

Our Son-In-Law jumped on the opportunity and provided us with about 100 suggestions (I believe we received only 102 total from all family members) which we narrowed down to a few and settled on Foxtail Farm. The main reason we liked it was simply that foxtail grew everywhere up here and we thought that if we couldn’t grow anything else, we could grow foxtails. So Foxtail Farm it is!

Alternatively, had we waited on a name until we started the orchard and garden, we probably would have named it Rockland Farm.

Foxtail Farm Business Card Side 1.jpg

The Flip

Peter Berg

Weather in the Sierra Nevadas seems to go to the extremes. Even though we have 4 seasons, fall and spring tend to be on the hot and cold side respectively. Last week we had highs in the low 50’s with overnight lows in the high 30’s and this weekend the highs will be in the 90’s. The date of this “flip” from cold to hot or in the fall from hot to cold varies. Usually we would have already been in hot weather by now. It is unclear to me what causes this change and when.

The traditional date for the snowpack to begin melting is April 1. The annual snowpack measurement always compares against “normal” for April 1. This year however with the additional rain the snowpack has increased well into May. The % or normal for this date in May is 220%! My prediction is that this weekend marks the "flip" when we will see things get warm and the rivers begin to swell with the snowmelt. The result for this area and Yosemite is that the waterfalls will be full and the expectation is that they will be spectacular through August and into September.

If there was a time for a visit to the park, this summer would be it.

Vernal Falls

Vernal Falls

Weeds

Peter Berg

And the effort to “whack” them down

I remember with some fondness mowing lawns whether it was my childhood home or our houses back east, mowing nice straight lines with some overlap to ensure that the grass was evenly cut. Flash forward to now and here I am with a gas-powered, bike handled, weed trimmer (whacker), knee deep in long (possibly tick infested) grass (all manner of nasty weeds) attempting to mow (ha!) them down to a manageable height and hope that the weather dries them out soon so that this is a one-time event.

I learned yesterday we received over 78” of rain for our wet weather season. And with all this rain we get a huge explosion of plant growth, some beneficial, and the rest not so much. To make the property presentable and accessible, I need to clear several acres of weeds and in the process, avoid the poison oak that has also sprouted. And so I get all covered up in long pants, boots, long sleeve shirt, gloves, and a helmet with face shield and ear protection and head into battle.

Now you would think that this job would be tedious and to a certain extent it is. I do get however a certain satisfaction along with the ability to release any aggression by taking down the weeds. It is like a video game where the weeds are the alien invaders and I have all sorts of weaponry to eradicate them off the planet. Actually it is probably the other way around, I am the alien invader and they are the natives and I am capturing this planet for the Foxtail Farm B&B federation.

Flashing back to my earlier years, I can remember finishing the lawn in a couple of hours and then relaxing on the deck with a nice cold beer. Flash forward, my planet capturing activities will take probably about 3 weeks putting in at least two (plus) hours every day (only if we get no more rain) followed by a tick inspection, a cool shower using a product called Technu to remove any poison oak oils, washing my clothes in the same, then followed by a nice cold beer. Doesn’t this sound like fun?

I may be crazy but I enjoy my time out in the wild whacking down the native population and look forward to spending a few hours making the property look great!

The native population

The native population

The Flying Golf Ball!

Peter Berg

I wouldn’t normally double up on topics but yesterday I witnessed something that I never expected to see, a fat hummingbird. My first thought was that we have an obese, diabetic hummer. I mean they drink twice their body weight in sugar water every day. I observed our fat little hummer for a while and noticed that she sat on the feeder and was consuming an inordinate amount of nectar. Could we have an overeater?

I checked out a few websites and found this quote, “Hummingbirds get most of their energy by sipping nectar from flowers and a typical hummingbird needs 7 to 12 Kcal of energy every day. This sounds idyllic, until you do the math: it's the equivalent of a 180-pound human having to scrounge up 204,300 calories a day, or about 171 pounds of hamburgers. To keep itself alive a hummingbird must manage to find as many as 1,000 flowers and drink almost twice its weight in nectar daily.”

I also began to wonder if feeding them all this sugar water was good for them and experts say that they are specifically designed to consume large quantities of sucrose. Nutritionally, they get their fats and proteins from eating insects.

So back to the question of fat hummingbirds. It turns out that hummers, especially males, do put on extra weight in the fall but here we are in May and we have a female. Further research turned up that we have a pregnant hummingbird. But I ask, how could a bird be pregnant? 

Female hummers will carry their eggs while they build their nest and during this period will "show" with a little belly. Hummingbirds lay two eggs at a time each about the size of a jelly bean. I have to imagine that with our population we have more than one pregnant hummer. The incubation period is 14-16 days and the chicks are in the nest for 3 weeks. Does this mean that in 5 weeks we could see our hummingbird population double?

That would be amazing and terrifying.

Bellying up to the bar!

Bellying up to the bar!

The flying Golf Ball!

The flying Golf Ball!

Routines

Peter Berg

I envision running a B&B as a series of routines with some variation here and there. In preparation I have begun to adopt some routines. Here is how my day now starts:

5:50 Get up and get dressed

6:05 Take Ursula down to the chicken coop to “release the girls” to the run

6:10 Put Ursula in her run (this is when she starts barking – I’ll need to work on that for the guests)

6:20 Check the hummingbird food, fill up any empty feeders, and start a new batch if needed

6:30 Clean up the kitchen and put away any washed pans and utensils

6:40 Put food out for the dogs, take Ursula’s food out to her run and replace her water (more barking)

6:50 Let Biko outside, assuming he has pulled his lazy butt out of bed (some more barking from Ursula)

7:00 Prepare and drink my protein shake – read the paper while I drink it down

7:15 Clean up from breakfast

7:20 Make a cup of green tea

7:30 Sit at the computer to write tomorrow’s blog entry

With the B&B, I know that there will be breakfast routines, cleaning routines, upkeep and repair routines, etc. I suspect that it will become tiresome and boring and not at all like the job I was doing before (Ha!). I suppose it is what you make of it and when we have guests, there is the opportunity to meet new people, build relationships, share common interests, and have them marvel at the property and of course my delicious, gourmet breakfasts! (I’ll need to work on that gourmet part.)

In summary, I am not the least bit concerned about routines or the work required to run the B&B. The opportunity to share our idyllic piece of the world with others offsets everything that I’ll need to put into it to make it enjoyable for our guests.

7:50 Finish blog entry and start my day

Irrigation

Peter Berg

Or how to effectively water the orchard with minimal effort

Our area of California is officially out of the drought with all the rain we've had and the snowpack that has just started to melt. Predictions are that the snowpack will continue to have run-off through August which means that the Yosemite waterfalls will show well all summer long.

On our property we have 3-4 seasonal streams and usually by this time of year they are all bone dry. This water year however they have been flowing continuously from late October and we had more rain yesterday.

What does this have to do with irrigation?

We have water but not in the right place and it doesn’t stay on the property. The question during the summer months is how to get water to the garden and orchard. Last year we ran a garden hose from the house across the driveway to drip-lines for our 4 trees and hand carried water elsewhere. That isn’t going to work for us this year with the expanded orchard and our new 10’ x 36’ garden.

We have determined that we need 4 separate hoses carrying enough water at the right pressure to effectively water all parts of the orchard and garden using drip lines. I am not a fluid engineer (although I did take a fluid dynamics course in college) so this is a best guess as to if this would work.

Our plan is to run a pressured line off the pump house through a single hose to just inside the orchard. There we are planning on using a 4-way splitter with individual controls and first see with all 4 controls open just how much water can be pushed into the drip lines. If we see that some areas are not getting water or not enough water, we will need to water the garden in sequence closing off 2 or 3 controls. We may also water overnight individual areas and rotate through the week.

Yesterday we had an outside faucet attached to the pump house and this weekend we expect to get the irrigation lines in and begin planting the garden. In a future post I’ll share out the results of our irrigation efforts and just how successful (or not) we were.

I know it's not much of picture - it is however a big step for us as this completes the pump house project. And completing projects feels good.

I know it's not much of picture - it is however a big step for us as this completes the pump house project. And completing projects feels good.

Goals

Peter Berg

When I describe my goals for the B&B one goal I usually don’t include is having to plunge toilets. I didn’t put in 36 years in the security industry to end up plunging toilets. It remains a real possibility however and to avoid that we have decided to replace all our toilets with low flow, high power flush, toilets. It is my hope that this will address this non-goal.

Besides this concern we have so many other improvements and upgrades that at times it makes my head spin. In an earlier post, I mentioned about taking little bites and always moving forward. Unfortunately, I cannot walk the house or the property without seeing everything else that needs to be done and so I run frenetically from one task to the next hoping that the more tasks I touch on will help me achieve the goal that much quicker. Not so.

Focus, Focus, Focus. Take one task at a time and cross that off the list.

One of those goals/tasks is to write this blog every day and thus far since re-starting it I have yet to miss a day (of course it’s been only a week, but I’m optimistic).

The challenge for me is that somewhere back in my educational history I missed basic grammar. I won’t go into why that happened mainly because I cannot remember all the details. Anyway, what this means is that I have no real formal education regarding sentence structure, use of punctuation, identification of sentence elements, and so on. Therefore, I fumble my way through with the support (or lack thereof) of what MS Word suggests and hope for the best. So for those of you out there that are reading this (if anyone – I think I have 2 followers at the moment) please cut me some slack since this like any other task I will improve and get better over time. And, any suggestions you might have for me would be most appreciated.

Painters Tape and Orange Peel Walls

Peter Berg

When I was a kid growing up in New England all the walls were smooth and the art (yes, art) of achieving a smooth wall was alive and well. It seems that every new house being built now has the orange peel wall. I know it is less expensive and hides a variety of sins but trying to get a straight paint line between the ceiling and wall using painters tape is near to impossible. Sure, I could go back with an artist brush and both colors of paint and make it look neater, better, but why don’t I do that up front and skip the painters tape?

Well as it so happens most professional painters don’t use painters tape unless they have a tricky area or can get a smooth, straight line by taping the baseboard or some other trim. They feather the brush and pull the paint in a straight line. My task for this weekend is to paint the master bathroom since our plan is to vacate the master bedroom and make that room available for the B&B. It also so happens that the bathroom was originally painted in a deep dark red (ceilings included) and no matter how bright you could make it by lighting it different ways, it still felt like a dark cave.

In my previous post, I mentioned liking landscaping, the transformation, etc. I on the other hand detest painting, there is no creativity in painting a room there is only the desire to get this done and done quickly. I also detest prepping the room – laying down painters tape – with the knowledge that I am going to have to fix the paint “leaks” afterwards anyway. It also lengthens the process making an unwelcome job more painful.

So here I go, wet rag in hand, no painters tape, and the opportunity to improve a skill set I know I will need to use again (and again). Wish me luck!

A Real Pain In The Behind

Peter Berg

Landscaping.

Don’t get me wrong, I love landscaping. I love the transformation, the physical effort to get it there and most certainly the results. What it takes is commitment, a tractor, and in this particular case, big rocks (I know what you are thinking – the other kind of rocks). To give you an idea about how big, imagine getting a rock into the front end loader and having the whole back end of the tractor (including the backhoe) come up off the ground. 

You may ask what am I doing with these big rocks.

Walls. Stone wall terracing. Taking the area in front of our house and building sizeable walls to retain 15+ cubic yards for top soil. This is part of my commitment to the B&B to upgrade the property for aesthetic purposes. Anyway, getting back to the main point of this post. A Real Pain In The Behind.

So, some of these rocks need to be placed in the tractor’s bucket, some need to be moved into place, some need to be lifted into place (and not by the tractor) and as a result I have developed a gluteal strain… a pain in my behind. The remedy is Advil (my friend), heat (applied directly to butt area), stretching and beer (not really on the beer part). Cheryl will tell me that I also need to rest but sitting hurts and I have difficulty sitting for any length of time (pain or no pain). So I try to be good and do things that don’t aggravate it and give it time to heal. But you know how it is, you start feeling better, you push yourself a little and... bam... back to the main point of this post.

A work in progress

A work in progress