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Monday
Oct032016

Fruit in My Yard

My fruit trees are always providing something to snack on. Right now I have jujubes, sapotes, and chocolate persimmons, with a few pitayas. The jujube (the small reddish-brown fruit above) is sometimes called a Chinese date, a Korean date, or an Indian date, and it has the consistency and taste of an apple. Sapotes (the green fruit above) have a creamy pulp, ranging in flavor from banana to pear to peach to vanilla flan. The chocolate persimmon (the orange fruit above) is chocolate brown in the middle when you cut it open. It has the consistency and taste of a sweet pudding.

I am watching my cherimoyas and mangos getting large and they should be ready to pick in November or December. I just found a couple of ripe pitaya's or dragonfruit as they are also known (the hot pink spiky looking fruit in the bowl below) and my macadamia nuts are ripening and falling from my tree. Yumm! Life is good! 


Wednesday
Aug312016

The Beauty of Hand Carving and Stunning Wood, Part II 

Above: Cabinet with hand-carved aspen branches

This blog is a continuation of a blog I wrote in April, 2016. I had been commissioned to make four pieces of furniture for a new home in Rancho Santa Fe for some clients I have done work for in various homes in different parts of the country for probably over 30 years. Each home has been different and it's always fun to work with them on new projects.

This time the style was to be more contemporary and each piece would also showcase their close connection and love of nature. The interior of the home is an open plan and my clients wanted to keep the color tones of all the wood pieces in the same family. We chose quilted big-leaf maple for the material. I found several large thick matched slabs from one of my suppliers in the Pacific Northwest that were absolutely outstanding. 

I featured the first piece I made for my clients in my April, 2016, blog: a TV cabinet/base with flying ducks carved into it. 

The second piece I made was an entry foyer table with a carved Sioux medicine woman standing on the table. The third piece I made is a side table and shelving next to the fireplace with carved mountain maple branches. The fourth and final piece I designed is by the kitchen and has carved aspen branches. Each piece is truly beautiful, yet different, and together they give a peaceful continuum to the home. 

Above:  Entry foyer table with hand-carved Sioux medicine woman

Above:  Entry foyer table with hand-carved Sioux medicine woman

Above: Cabinet with hand-carved mountain maple branches

Above: Cabinet with hand-carved mountain maple branches

Above: Close up of cabinet with hand-carved mountain maple branches

Above: Cabinet with hand-carved aspen branches

Above: Close up of hand carving

Friday
Aug122016

In My Garden: Critters, Part II

Above: Screened frame to keep birds away from small seedlings.

Learning to get along with nature is a part of urban life and the more you can prevent conflict with the wild creatures we all share our yards with, the happier we all will be. Below are a few things I have tried that have been successful in keeping me and the wildlife in harmony with each other. 

Most of the birds in my vegetable garden provide a really good service. They are mostly after the insects and worms that eat and destroy my lettuce and other crops in my garden. It's a win win situation for us. The birds eat the insects to their hearts content, and my garden is pest free without my having to do much of anything else. 

Young crows, on the other hand, are the juvenile delinquents of the bird world, and will pull out my young vegetables and markers just for the fun of it. The other day I came out to the garden to find about ten little radishes, not nearly ready to harvest, pulled out and laying in the dirt. Even though they are troublesome little guys, I still really like crows, and will write a whole blog on them one of these days.

Because of the crows' mischievous nature I use screen frames and/or light weight row covers on newly planted vegetables. The screen frame is a simple wood frame the size of your planted row or raised bed with screen stapled to it. The lightweight row covers consist of 1/8" metal U's (turned upside down and pushed into the earth every three feet) that I clip the row cover to (Gardens Alive at gardensalive.com sells the row cover). The lightweight row covers protect the new and more delicate plants such as lettuce, arugula and cilantro, from too much sun in the summer and the cold during winter nights. Once your crop is half grown you can remove the covers. The row covers also help prevent insects spreading to your new plants.

As an alternate to the fenced garden for your existing or new raised beds or garden here is another suggestion. Remove the soil out by about 12" to 18" and lay the same galvanized 1/2" mesh wire fencing into the recessed areas and allow 2" to 4" of that fencing wire to stay above ground on all edges. Then fill the dirt back into your raised bed or garden plot. No one will be able to dig underneath. You can also make a wood frame the same dimensions as your raised bed, staple the galvanized 1/2" mesh wire fencing to it, and place it over your freshly planted seeds. As the seed begin to sprout you can raise up the frame a little by placing small wood blocks underneath it. Don't raise it too high or critters will be able to get in. Once the seedlings have grown, you can remove the frame. 

If you have a small fenced yard, block any holes dug under the fence and check regularly. If the fence is chain link use 1/2" wire mesh fencing about two feet high attached to the base of the fence so that rabbits can't get through. You would be surprised the tiny holes a full grown rabbit can get through. I have seen rabbits in my yard hop right through my chain link fence like there was nothing there. If you have someone to help you dig around the fence base, dig about 18 inches deep and place the same galvanized mesh fencing overlapping the upper fencing by six inches. This will prevent wild critters from digging under the fence and stop gophers from coming into the yard.

If you have a larger yard consider installing a 24" to 30" high rabbit proof fence around the garden which can be made very attractive with an arched gate, etc. When you install the rabbit fencing dig the same 18 inch trench with mesh fencing. This will keep the gophers and other small animals out, as they won't be able to dig underneath it. 

I have tried many different ways to keep the peace between me and the wildlife who live in or near my yard. Above are some of the easiest and most effective ways I have found. I don't believe in trapping or poisoning animals, rather I believe we can all live peacefully together, even with those rascal crows! And don't forget to leave a bowl of fresh water every day for the wildlife out in your yard, especially during the summer. I want to keep the animals out of my vegetable garden and away from stealing all my fruit on my fruit trees, but they are welcome to anything that falls on the ground outside of the barriers and are welcome to share the yard with me. After all, they are a part of our urban life, and as far as I am concerned they do more to help my yard than to harm it. And besides that, they add a spark of life to our otherwise urbanized landscape.

Above: Lightweight row covers

Above: You can open the row covering to let some sun in during the day, if needed.

Above: Alternative to fenced yard, simple frame with wire mesh to protect seedlings.

Above: Another easy fix - metal "U's" with strings attached. The birds won't fly into this.

Above: Wood frames with wire mesh, greenhouse cloth for the top, and a wheelbarrow on one side is an easy-to-assemble barricade to protect your crops.

Above: A young skunk at one of the two water bowls I keep full of fresh water every day.

Tuesday
Jul122016

A Live-Edge Fireplace Mantle and TV/Storage Cabinet in San Diego, CA

I received a call from an interior designer I had not worked with before, and she asked if I would look at a few projects in Santaluz, a community on the outskirts of Rancho Santa Fe (RSF), CA. She had done work on a home in The Bridges in RSF, and saw an entryway and wine alcove surround on it that I had made years ago. We arranged a meeting with her clients, who were delightful. They had some specific ideas, but were also open to new ideas. Like The Bridges, the community is based on a Tucson-style architecture, popular in arid Italy, which is similar and very appropriate for our own arid landscape here in Southern California. 

The first project was a mantel. They wanted a natural live-edge piece of wood, a style I find extremely interesting, so I was excited to start on this project. Because the face of the fireplace was curved I had to have several ideas on how I might accomplish that. After making some calls and looking online at some suppliers I use for live-edge pieces, I found someone local who had just the right piece. I laid out the template I had made of their fireplace onto the slab, and it was perfect. It was a large slab of eucalyptus over 4" thick with a natural curve. I bought the piece immediately. I did the necessary mill work so it would fit the fireplace, I miiled in concealed attachments so that it would attach to the back edge of the fireplace, sanded it and then put a natural finish on the mantel so that the beautiful natural colors came out. We installed it and it was exactly what my clients asked for. 

The second project they wanted was a TV/storage cabinet to be made of solid walnut with crotch walnut panels. After getting approval of my artistic rendering we made the piece. As usual, all the wood is hand selected from rough material, milled, constructed and finished in my shop. The hardware is from Italy. We delivered the piece of furniture and it fit perfectly. It is a piece of furniture that will be used and handed down to future generations, which is always my goal when I do any project, large or small.

 

Monday
Jul112016

In My Garden: Critters!

Above: Galvanized steel around my macadamia nut tree to help prevent squirrels from climbing the tree and taking all the nuts. They are welcome to all that fall to the ground, and there are always plenty to share. Note that I also put a ring of formica around the palm tree behind my macadamia nut tree so that the squirrels can't climb that and jump over to get some macadamia nuts!

If you have a vegetable garden or fruit trees you are going to attract birds and other animals such as skunks, possums, squirrels, rats, mice, and raccoons to name a few. This is usually less of a problem than you might think. Lethal trapping and poisoning is out of the question for me and is not necessary for anyone to do. Let me give you a few ideas that will help.

To prevent tree rats, possums, and squirrels from climbing or jumping into your fruit trees, prune the lower branches of your fruit trees to about 2 feet off the ground and 1-1/2 to 2 feet from other bushes, trees, and fences.  Use galvanized venting large enough to fit around the tree trunk. The venting should have an open seam that snaps together or screws together. You can also use flat galvanized sheet metal or Formica sheet to form around the tree trunk and screw together at the seams. You can get all of this at any home improvement type of store. Animals cannot climb up a smooth surface such as steel or Formica as there is nothing for them to get their claws into like the bark of your tree. 

To keep birds out of your fruit trees, I use bird netting. Be sure to tie it tightly around the trunk of the tree so that birds can't get inside and get trapped. And make sure it is at least one or two feet off the ground so that snakes and other smaller animals don't get entangled in the netting. They can easily get stuck and, if no one notices they are stuck, can have a slow and agonizing death. I leave folds in the netting that the birds can't see but I can reach inside to pick fruit. 

I have tried tying pieces of tin foil and ribbons on the trees, and that only works for a few days to a few weeks before the birds figure it out. I have also tried other methods such as spraying the trees with garlic and hot sauce, and that has not worked for me either. Pruning and netting seems to be the best way to preserve your harvest of fruit. 

In my next blog I will cover the vegetable garden, and how to safely keep the birds and other animals from eating all my vegetables. 

Above: Close-up of the screwed-together galvanized steel around my macadamia nut tree.

Above: Close-up of bird netting. 

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