Signs of spring are everywhere. The blue oak that towers over my small house is leafing out; the buckeye tree outside my back door is brilliantly green, the deciduous fruit trees and early ornamentals are blooming, wildflower seedlings are sprouting up in gardens and on the hillsides, which already show the colors of early bloomers like black mustard, fiddleneck, and popcorn flower. Ducks and geese are everywhere in my Sierra foothill town, and white pelicans are on the Tule. Streams, rivers, creases, seeps and bogs are full of water, and there’s solid white snow on the peaks. The days are longer, about twelve and a half hours between sunrise and sunset: compare that to less than ten hours in January and more than fourteen in July. *
At Quercus, the rain is preventing us from getting started on serious landscaping. It’s not unpleasant to be out of doors in a light March rain, but working the soil at all when it’s this wet can easily cause compaction problems, which means drainage, root growth and root health problems later. On the few dry stretches we’ve had, we’ve planted vegetables at our little farm project, fertilized roses and citrus trees, completed some small planting and pruning jobs, kept on with our regular garden service, completed our annual inventory and sharpened and cleaned pruners and other tools. I bought a small trailer from a friend. We’ve also gotten a better start on propagation of nursery plants than either 2017 or 2018. It never gets old: seeing the tiny leaves emerge and seedlings begin to grow.
Landscapers are like farmers in that we also always have something to worry about, usually weather- related, but we’re also always prepared and always optimistic. If the rains just go and go and go and then suddenly it turns hot, will we have time to get all these planned gardens in before summer? Will our fall-planted landscapes be established enough to get through their first real test of their young lives? With the farm, Auntie’s Home Grown, I worry less because it’s small and just a plain joy, but there’s always more work to do than hours. With small farming, the challenge is to be so efficient you can compete with large farmers: consumers expect economy-of-scale prices and quality-sorting no matter how small acreage you are. Farm to Table and Locally-Grown are great labels, but they will only add so much $-value to budget-minded consumers. Which is fine. The reward is feeding people (!) and, just like with the ornamental landscaping, doing it in a way that you can live with, a way that tries to do no harm and maybe even improves a small slice of the planet.
In a way, spring starts a landscape year. People in California are learning that Autumn is the best time to plant in our climate, but how can we help but be a little plant-crazy in March, April and May? So, I take a deep breath, standing on this edge of almost-spring. I check that I have my tools ready, my crew trained, my sunscreen stocked, and get ready to jump. Good days ahead! Let’s go.*using Bakersfield, CA as a reference: wwwtimeanddate.com