Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Big Freeze of 2009!

Last week Alaska opened the refrigerator door and a very cold mass of air enveloped California for a few was cold! It got down to 5 degrees in Trinity County and about 10 in places around Mendocino County. As usual, the pipes burst and the plumbing supplies went sailing out the door at the hardware stores. I thought we were pretty safe against the cold, but, mother nature proved me wrong. The inline water filter shattered and that took the whole system out until things thawed and the water started flowing again. The problem is, once everything freezes, you can't tell where the leaks just have to patiently wait so you can begin fixing things. I also lost some argicultual fittings at the outlet to one of the big plastic tanks. That still has to be repaired, but not to worry, there will be plenty of opportunity to repair that before it is needed. After the freeze the rains came, which are a most welcome relief after the bitterly cold period. The hydro is now flowing and creating about 62 amps of power a day. The road is soft and will need some more gravel as a temporary solution in order to get in and out of the cabin. I plan to do that on my next trip up. Oh the joys of ownership! Actually, I am not complaining; I love my land!

Monday, December 7, 2009


Yes, apple trees need and like the cold. In fall, the leaves drop and the sap, the energy of the tree, flows down into the trunk and root system. Trees need at least 500 to 900 hours of low temperatures so the tree can rest and prepare for the spring bloom. So cold nights and mornings are just what the doctor ordered when it comes to apples. I wonder about people? Do they need down time when they can regroup and rest? Sometimes we call that vacation! The first snow of the year has hit Bell Springs and it is a wonder for sure.
For me, winter is the perfect time. Because of the snow and cold, nature forces us to "chill". We get to linger over a cup of tea, and spend a few extra minutes talking with a friend or relative. The maddening rush is done, and the satisfaction of the accomplished projects hangs in the air. This year there is so much to be thankful for. I am happy to be here and feeling liberated. Feeling free to be myself, and dote on my apples. Keep it simple, Noel, that is the only way to really enjoy life!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Finished At Last!

After nearly six months of focusing on the water system, I can realistically say that for now I am done. It really began with the leveling of benches along the hillside last year by the excavator. With the leveling meant removing water pipes that formally followed the terrain. However, the challenging aspect is that post tractor work the pipes then needed to be reinstalled. You know how it is....first I decided to upgrade the pipes to a better quality that wasn't so available 25 years ago when we first created the system. Then I got to looking at the tanks themselves, and realized what I didn't really want to know. They were pretty shot with the lids broken from years of snowfall, and little creatures nesting in this delightful aquatic environment. So, the replacement plan got more expansive. Research was necessary to determine what size and brand. And due understand, just because you buy something does not mean it is magically going to appear 40 minutes from the small podunk of Laytonville. Merchants are definitely on "country time", and it takes some negotiation to get the product delivered. The other consideration was the Hydro System, which I have also been working on for a couple of years. In the winter, the water from rainfall is abundant, and it makes sense to capture the water and direct it to the generator that is now producing the power the cabin daily needs when the sun is not out. So, no plan is complete without calculating how the water system will work hand in hand with the Hydro Power system. Once I finally had all the materials, pipes, sand, tanks plumbing fittings and faucets, I then had a pretty daunting feeling and the question came to mind, "How am I going to do all of this?". As was mentioned last blog entry, that is when Ben came along. But, today, I was on my own for the finish up. Some final connections were on my list for today, stopping at the hardware to pick up those items that I became aware of last time that I needed to go to the next level. For me, there is nothing more satisfying that covering the holes and racking the ground smooth, becoming receptive to the rain that is already gathering far out on the horizon. With the tools put away, a smile on my face, I cruised home feeling a strong sense of accomplishment!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Heading Down the Homestretch!

Just a couple of weeks ago, with two new water tanks delivered, and the sand to put under them on hand, I was wondering how this was all going to come together? Then, enter my nephew Ben! Ben is a 20 something Cal Fighter who was just got laid off for the season, and was scouting out some work to keep the his wallet plump. Turned out to be a win win situation. Ben has that kind of "can do" attitude that a strapping young man who is out to conquer the world just wreaks of. He has a tenacity that you just hope all the firefighters in California have, because then there would be no lost homes or forests. No problem is too big or impossible to solve. So, the first day out we tackled the spring fed drinking water tank. This is a little complicated because we also have to hook a two inch poly pipe into the hydro generator 70 feet down the hillside. This rolled pipe is somewhat like wrestling with a might know the direction you want to go, but this opponent is big and bulky, and certain has a mind of its own! We actually get it all hooked up in one day and then the test! Yes! 3 amps of continuous power. Mind you, this is not the Hoover Dam or anything, but, this does represent over 70 amps a day. Imagine if you had a really good car battery, and you foolishly left the lights on all day, and your battery went dead. The best intervention would be to put the battery or a slow charge; maybe two or three amps for a day. Miracle! The battery would recharge and be as good as new. Thus it is with this power. On a rainy day, when there is no Sun to shine on the solar panels, the batteries will still be charging so that Lindsay could turn on a light, watch a movie, or maybe work on her computer. All these are within her power means. So it won't be solar power, but rather water power that refills the battery bank.
On the second day out, we set up the 2600 gallon storage tank that will water the trees late in the season when all other water is gone. I was very pleased to get these two tanks checked off my list and now in service. I think two more days will see the "water replacement" project completed!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Another Post to the Blog!

I haven't made a contribution to the blog in awhile, but I'd like to share that the combination of growing apple trees and then writing about the experience has to be just about the the most rewarding much to learn. Mother nature is an ongoing miracle, and we are so blessed to be a part of this experience! I am struck by the power that a human being has to be able to partner with an apple tree and help to shape that little being through grafting, pruning and nurturing into a full grown fruit bearing tree. It is a wonderful Universe.....

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It's a Beautiful Saturday!

It is a lovely day, and no, I am not at Bell Springs......somewhat of a miracle, I'd say. No, other things have taken priority, like going to the dump, tearing out the old sink in the garage along with the ancient rusty metal cabinets that where cast offs from the kitchen remodel. They were the original cabinets installed in the house in the year of 1952! So I enjoyed the day here in Willits, running to the hardware store getting plumbing supplies. It was a good day and I am hoping that by tomorrow the new sink will be in the preferred location, and our garage will be on the way to becoming organized.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Last Apple of the Season!

It's been a long hot dry summer, but as of today the season is officially finished......the last apple was picked and now we can take a break. No more water worries as the seasonal rain is taking care of that need, and about half of the leaves have already fallen. The variety that just got ripe is an antique tree from the east coast. It looks somewhat like a large Granny Smith, only it has the most beautiful red blush over part of the apple. They are juicy and crisp and have a spicy flavor....yummy! Today was a magical day in terms of completing projects. First, I have been working on burying conduit from the generator/power shed out to the lowest water tank on the hill. This is so that in the summer, when this tank fills, the excess water can be pumped higher up the hill and the water will then flow by gravity back down into the orchard area where it feeds the drip system via the emitters. Now that the power is all installed, it will be ready for next summer. Then, a second project that left me feeling quite satisfied was organizing a load to the landfill....simple pleasues for simple minds I guess! It is quite rewarding to dispose of materials that have been spent and are of no further use or value. I took my skill saw and cut up two six hundred gallon fiberglass water tanks into pieces small enough to pack neatly in the bed of my pickup truck. Who would guess that in the back of that truck was an entire water system that had been disassembled and along with it many memories of a time gone by? There were also hundreds of feet of one inch "Poly" pipe that used to be the mainstay 25 years ago for transporting water from one location to another. Now that PVC Pipe has replaced this older remedy, it was fun taking my loppers and cutting this poly pipe into 3 and 4 foot sections to be hauled off to the dump. As I say, sometimes it is the small things in life where one finds ultimate satisfaction!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It's Been Awhile Since I've Been here!

I've been busy @ Bell Sprigs, just not so busy on my blog...bad, bad bad! It is important to me to describe some of the activities that are unfolding. Notice the perfect sunset to the west of the apple farm, taken by my friend Bruce.....nice job! This would be standing out on the deck in front of the living area. I have been upgrading the water system, including installing two new water tanks and replacing piping that was installed over 25 years ago. It's a big job, but when completed will not only serve the apple trees, but also supply well over 50,000 gallons of water daily in the winter time to the hydro generator that can create the necessary daily cabin power in the absence of sunlight. This has been an ongoing project, and I sincerely hope to have all in place for when the big rains come in December, and beyond. Today I am also hoping to receive delivery of up to 15 yards of base gravel for the drive way. With all the trenching that has happened, the drive way has gotten pretty muddy. That can be an ugly stuck in six inches of gooey soft clay....let's not go there!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

It's All about Organic

There are four things a plant needs to survive and thrive.....fresh air, sunlight, water and the nutrients that are in good soil. Sometimes farmers try to cut corners on the soil and maybe take a "shortcut" by the use of chemical fertilizers rather than natural compost that has aged over time and is rich in worm castings. Plants have an immune system just like we humans. They can resist disease and harmful insects if they are healthy and strong plants. We can help plants to become strong by careful pruning, ample water, direct sunlight and developing a good bed of soil around the tree. One small way we feed our trees is by taking the kitchen compost and placing it in a round cylinder and rolling the cylinder every few days to allow the waste to quickly break down and become soil again. We then spread that compost around under a fruit tree, and not only does it provide trace minerals but it also acts as a barrier between the hot sun and the water underground. The compost keeps the water from evaporating and allows a rich environment to grow where worms and other creatures carry on nature's program. So, our philosophy the apple farm is keep it real and keep it natural. We'll leave the chemicals to the auto mechanics!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Renting the Cabin to Lindsay

Our last renter moved on at the end of July and Olga and I agreed we would either use it ourselves, or rent to family. After doing some considerable cleaning, painting and restoration, the cabin was sitting empty when my niece Lindsay asked about her and her partner moving in. After some discussion, we agreed on a plan that mutually served our needs and boom, just like that, the cabin now has new residents. Our last renter, Bruce, used to like to say it was like living in paradise, and I think he was right! Although there is an awesome view to the south west, at night, not a single light is visible. At night the Milky Way Galaxy puts on her wonderful show and we are privileged to just kick back and enjoy the experience. The cabin is about 1000 square feet with all the amenities for comfort, plus a few mice. The water comes from the spring and the power comes from the Sun and the rain. The cabin deserves to have tenants. It is a lovely home for the right people, and I am very glad it does not have to sit by empty. Such a unique place will be the happy recipient of much praise from its inhabitants!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

More on Grafting

Two different twigs brought together through a few careful cuts, and the result? Wow, a whole new tree! Grafting can be used as an experimental vehicle to create something new. The tree pictured is a standard pear root with a Comice scion or twig grafted on and within just a couple of years this new tree will be bearing fruit. Luther Burbank did plenty of grafting on his farm down in Sonoma County. If ever there was a farmer who understood the possibilities that existed for each plant, it was Luther who had this gift. It is an amazing feeling of accomplishment to return to the site where a graft had been done six months earlier and find a healthy tree growing. After the new tree gets bigger, then the apple farmer again gets to play his hand by shaping the tree in the manner the farmer desires. I like a tree with a strong central leader, that is, a trunk that grows straight toward the Sun, and has lateral branches that head out to the sides of the tree in an effort to spread out and expose itself to as much light as possible. But before we get to pruning the tree, first we've got to get the tree established and settled in its new environment.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Grafting is a Miracle of sorts in the Orchard!

Apple trees have different rootstocks depending upon the eventual desired size of the tree, the soil conditions available, and the amount of water the tree might receive. The old fashioned "Standard" rootstock is not very common anymore. So often dwarf or semi-dwarf trees are what will be sold in the nurseries. Most people are buying trees for their back yard, and they may not have room for a full grown tree. The other consideration is that "Standard" rootstock can take from 6 to ten years to begin bearing a crop. However, though it takes time to get established, these trees will be hearty, disease and insect resistant and able to survive in challenging conditions. I like this old rootstock. What I like even more though is cutting small twigs, called scions, from the existing old trees and grafting these cuttings onto other apple starts. Usually when an apple tree dies above the grafted spot found near the root, suckers will grow out of the root very spontaneously. While these will typically not make good apple trees, they make a great partner for the cut scions and by using a grafting method, some waxed paper and tree adhesive, the sucker can become a new thriving real honest to goodness fruit bearing tree. I told you it was a miracle! Yesterday when I was in the orchard, I noticed I have three successfully grafted trees, where the little scion branch came from an old glorious Gravenstein Tree. I hope to practice on a few more this coming spring. This is about as close to creating a live plant as I may ever get. Yippee!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lilly Dog at the Apple Farm

Yes, a man's best friend enjoys the farm just as much as her master! Lilly knows that we are going for a ride in the truck as soon as she observes the preparations happening. There is no doubt for her what is about to unfold. She becomes increasingly agitated just wanting to get in the cab and be done with the waiting. This is heaven for her as there are no leashes and plenty of varmints to chase all over Timbuktu. She never tires of sniffing the same spots and claiming this as her territory. As the day wears on, the look starts to come over her body language, and her unspoken question is, "Dad, are we about ready to go home? I'm hungry!" In variably the day does come to an end and we troop home, and one exhasusted doggie sleeps ever so soundly.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Getting Ready for the First Rain

The First rain of the season is always a magical time. After months of checking the water tanks, fixing leaks, repairing drip lines so emitters gush the prescribed amount of water, suddenly the dusty dry environment is perched to be drenched from the sky without a bit of effort from my side. The ground is so parched and thirsty that it will devour every drop of water initially and there is zero runoff. The new smells of dampness on the dry hay is a heaven sent scent. The lightness of the air and the misty overcast set the stage for the water to come that will satisfy all living things. Even the gnomes and fairies are dancing with glee at the thought of creeks flowing and dripping leaves. Once the rain starts, the ground will soften and become friendly again to the shovel that wants to loosen and dig. I am always happy when we arrive at this time of year, although it is a sure reminder that the next challenge begins. Now is the time to organize that firewood and just know that every day there will be that new chore that for so long was just a distant thought.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

No one has to "Baby Sit" an Apple Tree

When we own pets, and we want to go on vacation, there can be tremendous challenges in working out all of the details around who will care for the animals. Not so with apple trees. We can go, happy as a lark, off in any jolly direction knowing full well the trees will continue to prosper, even without us!
As long as the tree has a source of water, it can survive indefinitely. Since the emitters are dripping water at least three times a week, the trees know that all is well. I will be leaving for India on Monday for nine days, and frankly, I won't be giving my ladies in the field much consideration. I have put plenty of effort in securing the trees from the animals in the wild, and at this point there seems to be some sort of agreement that all is in balance and that there should not be attacks on the trees. My hope is to go off to Delhi, assuming all the while that my beautiful girls will bear yet another year. Now that is satisfaction!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

When the Apples are Ripe.....

Though it is always a little pitiful and disheartening to see another summer come to an end, one big bonus about this change in seasons is that the apples are coming on strong, and some are ready for the picking. Suddenly I am confronted with a dilemma; "What do I do with all of these darn apples?!" Luckily, I have friends..........bags and bags of the year's crop go this way and that. Yes, and as mentioned earlier, always an apple pie around. Someday, I hope to be sitting at the farmer's market with organic apples and just having some fun. The whole cycle is awesome......first pruning the trees each winter and then getting the fertilizer thing to happen. Next, setting up the water system in April and watching for the bees to pollinate and set the apples. The heat of the summer days and the warm evenings allow the fruit to develop and get to the stage you see in the attached picture. It's all a miracle!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Apple Pie!

There is hardly a better reward for growing apples than devouring a piece a freshly baked warm apple pie.....yummy! Something about knowing the source of the fruit, and remembering all the human effort that went into being a partner with mother nature in producing wonderful apples of all sorts that makes a piece of home made pie taste so much better than just about any other dessert. There are a lot of ticks to making the perfect pie.....this I am am here to tell you. We won't go into that now, only to say practice makes perfect. It is a rare thing that a visitor will turn down an offering such as this. And hey, with so many foods "bad for your health" just gobble this down and know you are doing your body a favor!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Kubota comes through again!

Before the rains begin, it is always a good time to kick some butt and get a few things done. Today it was replacing old poly pipe with PVC and spreading some rock on the drive way so that winter time is not too insane! This project was down by the cabin. However, the really big work was up by the water storage area, where Gene built a road that will be good for all year round, and will also support a mini water tank farm at the end. Water is the key to development in this back country, and with the great soil that we have, and the extremely abundant sunshine and rich pure oxygen, the only missing ingedient is H2O. So, with an extended pad to place future tanks, water storage will become so much easier. The new road really framed the landing so that it is easy to see gardens growing there in the future. It is also awesome to keep cars out of that sacred spot. A productive but exhausting day. Never have I been so glad to hit the showers and a hot bath with epson salts....

Monday, September 14, 2009

The First Rain of the Season

Simply nothing is as awesome as being in this out back land when the first drops of moisture start falling from the sky in the late afternoon. The smell is wonderous and the experience impossible to describe. All summer long we struggle to make sure all the timers are working; all the emitters are free flowing and that each and every tree is getting a drink of water at least three times a week. And then it happens.......with no forcing by my hand, the precipitation just starts falling from the sky. If there is a miracle in nature, this has to be one of he most amazing. I love the damp earthy smell, and the quiet way in which the rain just sneaks up and before you know it there are drops of water soaking instantly into the dry dusty soil. There is no run off. All is gone in an instant as the weeds and dirt absorb he charged moisture in a lusty gesture of desire. Though tomorrow may be sunny and hot again, and this a distant memory, still this is my vision today, and I want to savor every moment.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Do We Have a Pond?

After more than thirty years of owning this property, the family combined resources to to create a 500,000 gallon pond that can provide water for the summer gardens. Once the pond was built, landscaping in the form of planting trees, spreading grasses and hay, and laying rock in the spillway and drain were accomplished. Now the migrating birds and other animals frequent the pond and use it for a refueling spot. Since we don't have a well, we have to rely on springs for the only source of fresh drinking water in the dry hot summers. In the winter along with the rains, water is abundant, so storage is a great strategy to consider to quench the thirst of the numerous conifer, fruit, and deciduous trees for the long hot summer months of July, August and September. With water anything is possible. An arid southern exposure turns into a potential forrest of organics veggies plants and trees. This is no mirage. It is as real and abundant as the sky is clear and blue.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Napa Valley

Well, here I am in the world renowned and incredible grape growing region where the sun shines brightly and the chemistry for growing is magical. As I drove into the region I could see the vineyards sprawling across the hillsides, and I wondered, how amazing is this? These grapes are products of the earth just like the apples that grow on Bell Springs. The same crucial elements that support the vines also nurture the scaffolding of the trees like Gravenstein, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and Pink Ladies. The same stars and moonlight bathe these plants every night and the same rain pours down on the Napa hillsides as in Laytonville and Leggett in Mendocino County. So while I am here, I will enjoy the beauty that reminds me of the land up that five mile gravel road that I so love.

Wednesday Morning; A New Day!

Today I will travel from Weaverville down to Napa for a conference. I will be at the Marriotts. The Policy Forum officially starts on Thursday morning, but I will be able to check in and attend some events later today. So this week end I hope to be able to begin the last big push of the year on getting things together on the farm. The electric fence needs to be activated to keep the bears out. Luckily, there is no sign that they have been around, but with the apples coming on, they can smell them from a long way off. Just will help me sleep better knowing there are 5000 watts of power pulsating around the orchard 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Once a few years back Olga was walking with me around the outside of the orchard and there was a decline and it was a bit slippery on the weeds and gravel. She reached out and grabbed the fence to steady herself, and kaablaam!! There was a loud scream. She landed on her butt and we all found out just what a bear might feel if it attempts to scale this particular fence. Once Olga stopped crying, she was actually fine. She doesn't seem to have the same level of passion for the orchard since that event. Hummm? So I have repairs to do to get the electricity flowing again, but, it is likely that I can accomplish this as a project in one day. Twenty five years ago I purchased some apple trees from an antique apple nursury in Sebastopol. These were trees grown from old time stock, and, funny it has taken them so long to produce. This year, they are loaded with apples, and I will be sampling to find out just which ones are ready for picking. Yes, more miracles on the horizon!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

So very tired.....

After working all day I don't feel much like writing about the apple trees. But you know what? No matter how I feel the apple trees just keep right on growing until the apples are ripe and they fall off the tree or get picked first. What possible difference could it make in my life, or yours, whether the apples at 2700 feet elevation in northern Mendocino County ripen or not? The question of the night. Go ahead. Take a stab at answering this puzzle. There is a mystery here that on these bone dry hills, lovely apples are produced in the harshest of elements, and continuously day and night these trees fevorishly support the fruit of their limbs to maturity. The cells continue to split and the juice content grows and the apples become lush. Why does this matter? There is an answer here, but you will not get it now. Goodnight!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Night

So it is back to the work grind tomorrow morning. I am staying at the Weaverville Hotel tonight. Tomorrow morning, I will be back working at the clinic here. However, in contemplating the weekend, Saturday, I did spend the afternoon up at the apple farm and here are some random thoughts. The season is certainly changing.....the light has that Autumn golden glow with the dried brown fields of weeds as a background. It even drizzled in the morning which is a rare thing in these parts. I saw a hawk flying above the orchard and had to stop everything to watch it traverse the sky above. I realize another season is coming to a close, and have I made the progress that I am after? This has been a year of focusing on the infrastructure.....gates, the retaining wall; painting and restoring the cabin and of course the relentless search for water, water, water. Nothing can grow in these rugged hills without the sustenance of H2O. Period. We have plenty of sun, earth and soil, clean fresh air, but, water is precious. Nature is generous to yield even a pint. She gives this commodity from the bowels of the earth, drop by drop. The springs flow through the Grace of the Universe. Day and night progress and the tanks fill with yummy water. The timers go off at their prescribed times, and water flows to the trees soaking the ground where the emitters are strewen. Next year it has to be about farming. Enough of this work. What is the point of having the systems in place if the farming doesn't happen and the satisfaction doesn't come from the act of watching fertility ocurr? So, that is the resolution. The coming cycle will be more abundant. Yet, I did pick two bags of Pink Lady Antique Apples. That was a miracle. I want more miracles!

Noel's Fellowship Farms

September 7, 2009
This is my first post to this fact it is the first post I have ever done. So what inspired me, a 59 year old man, to start writing down my thoughts? Well it was the movie....Julie and Julia. Olga and I went to that flick last night and it was the best production I have seen in a long violence....just human beings struggling, having fun, having sex and making the most of their lives......and the blogging! Let's not forget the basis of the story. So I thought, why not? I always have pieces to the puzzle that is my life rolling around in my brain, and why not let those pieces incubate out in cyber space somewhere? So, with that introduction I begin.