Visiting the Alpaca Hacienda

My recent visit to an Alpaca ranch in Temecula, CA really caught me by surprise.  I’m not sure that I’d even seen an alpaca before in the flesh so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Kinda like a llama, maybe?

The Alpaca Hacienda is home to about 60 alpacas, most of which are there as boarded animals and let’s just say they’re all living high on the hog.  The owner used to be an elementary school teacher and when contemplating a career switch, decided to raise alpacas (well of course!).  She told us that her husband saw the idea in a Costco magazine, of all places.  Their hacienda is atop a hill with beautiful views, their personal home, and large divided sections of land where the alpacas are separated usually by age or gender.  Each alpaca is unique in color, type of fiber (that’s alpaca talk for fur) and personality.  They’re a cousin to llamas and are a bit smaller.  I didn’t expect them to but they really stole my heart!

securedownload_4 Here’s my daughter feeding her new BFF, Moon Shadow, who really took a liking to her (nothing to do with the food I’m sure) and followed her most of the morning.

Now, I imagine you may be wondering if they spit, and they can, but they never did at us, only to each other if they were getting vexed about not getting a fair share of food.

securedownload_5They are so amazing!  And incredibly soft.  They were originally brought to the US from South America in the 1980’s and in the decade or so that they were brought in, they were meticulously recorded and catalogued.  To this day the genealogy lines are maintained and recorded.

securedownload_6We were lucky to have arrived only a few days after these two were born.  After a year inside the womb, they essentially come out looking like this and within an a few hours are walking!

securedownload_2The Alpaca Hacienda is an amazing home for these animals and the owner happily gives tours by appointment.  To boot, there is a boutique on the grounds with anything you can imagine made from the fiber of her alpacas.  My daughter picked out a bunny!

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Unique Fruity Shapes and Colors

"I promise I won't buy any more fruit trees."  I said 2 weeks ago.  After which I heard, "Don't make promises you can't keep."

“I promise I won’t buy any more fruit trees.” I said 2 weeks ago after my husband planted this for me. After which I heard, “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”  And he was right.  I couldn’t argue his point.

After taking out a lack luster vine from this spot, I knew what addition I wanted to try in it’s place.  I’d read a post from Hanbury House about her new Spice Zee NectaPlum that she’d gone so far as to sacrifice a Red Baron Peach to make room for after a neighbor gave her some amazingly sweet fruit from her tree.  She described it as “the best tasting stone fruit I ever tried”.  It’s a white-fleshed, nectarine-peach-plum hybrid.

In a sea of green leaves while I overlooked the fruit tree section of my local Green Thumb nursery, I could see the Spice Zee NectaPlum all the way in the back.  The dark purple leaves are extremely unique and turn green after they mature.

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In a way it’s an ornamental and a fruit tree all packaged in one.

This season I’m also growing a unique tomato with a strawberry type shape, aptly named German Orange Strawberry.

DSCN2030It’s shape also resembles the ripening Red Baron peaches that it sits next to:

Love that color!

Love that color!

 

Fancy Fencing for Feathered Friends

The 18″ high fencing we’d been using to keep our 4 chickens in their designated 300 square foot area had been falling short for quite some time.  The Silkies had figured out how to squeeze through and Henrietta could just give a little hop and just roam free all through the yard, which is not a good thing.  I decided I’d had enough of chasing chickens around the yard when I came home from the store, so I did a little research and found this blog post from Sunny Simple Life and knew it was just what I had in mind.  Something nice looking, blends well with the garden and is functional.

Before (morning dirt bath under the Double Delight Nectarine):

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After:

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I purchased it at Lowe’s and it took about 2 hours to install with metal posts that hammer into the ground.  The fencing slides onto the posts and then links together to the panel next to it.  In order to still have access into their space, we left one panel un-linked, sawed off the metal post at the bottom of the panel to prevent drag and then turned around the next panel and continued along.

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I love the leaf design.  Now I know the chickens aren’t causing mischief in the rest of the yard, which makes me an even happier chicken owner.

And a couple fun veggies:

White heirloom cuke

White heirloom cuke

My first butternut squash!

My first butternut squash!

Spring Garden Update

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The ONE tomato seed that germinated was this, the trusty Stupice (pronounced Stu-peach-ka) tomato.  Most of my seeds have entered their 3rd year in my kitchen cabinet and so I can conveniently blame their age for lack of successful seed sprouting this spring, having nothing to do with my 30 hour work week which I’ve never had since beginning my edible quest some 4 years ago.  And it’s no big deal that this tomato plant is about a month behind the tomato curve because Stupice is one tomato that is a lover of the fall, a welcomer of the sudden cool days that can sneak up in early autumn when we’re still passing them off as summer.  In 2012 I was still harvesting these medium sized red Czechoslovakian heirlooms in January.  Yes, that’s right.

Refreshed soil in the raised bed is now home to a white Armenian cuke, butternut squash, yellow crookneck squash, pattypan squash, basil and rosemary.  To my surprise the basil is getting DEVOURED by some rodent, perhaps with an Italian parentage.

Refreshed soil in the raised bed is now home to a white heirloom cuke, butternut squash, yellow crookneck squash, pattypan squash, basil and rosemary. To my surprise the basil is getting DEVOURED by some rodent, perhaps with an Italian parentage.

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My daughter and I had a “decorate grow bags” afternoon using felt shapes and water-proof fabric glue. They grow my best tomatoes ever.

My daughter's design, now home to a cherry tomato.

My daughter’s design, now home to a cherry tomato.

For such a small thing, Eva's Pride has an impressive crop.  Supportive stakes in my future?

For such a small thing, Eva’s Pride peach has an impressive crop. Supportive stakes in my future?

Honestly, I'm unsure what the deal is with my Snow Queen Nectarine.  the bottom half is growing some healthy, strong new branches but the top half is only now meekly blooming with no leaves.  I'm hoping the two ends can meet somewhere in the middle and soon.

Honestly, I’m unsure what the deal is with my Snow Queen Nectarine. The bottom half is growing some healthy, strong new branches but the top half is only now meekly blooming with no leaves. I’m hoping the two ends can meet somewhere in the middle and soon.

Pole beans making their presence known.

Pole beans making their presence known.  These WERE grown from seed (one of the easiest veggies to do so in my opinion).  I just save a few over-ripe pods each year and let them dry out on the kitchen window sill.

And last but not least, the red seedless Thompson grape.  This may be one of the most exciting things happening this season for me.  It's a first and I'm enjoying seeing the tiny flowers give way to this...

And last but not least, the red seedless Thompson grape. This may be one of the most exciting things happening this season for me. This vine fruiting is a first and I’m enjoying seeing the flowers give way to tiny grapes…

A Rose Named Dolores

If I had to pick just one plant from my garden to take with me, it wouldn’t be one of my fruit trees or any type of edible whatsoever.  It would be a potted rose on my patio.  I’ve had this miniature rose since the early 1990’s.  Before that it belonged to my grandmother who first acquired it in the early 80’s.  The rose lived on her picturesque deck in La Jolla, CA looking west to the ocean.  It was a small, old home perched on top of a bluff.  Along with the view, one of the other memorable, fantastic qualities of her house was it’s sprawling old wooden deck.  Being on the side of a hill, this deck was the main garden.

 

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The rose is sitting in a terracotta pot on the deck just to the right of the bench under the red bougainvillea.

My grandmother’s thumbs were bright green and her favorite plants to grow were roses.  To her, the beauty of a rose was unsurpassed.  And with so many varieties and scents, the possibilities were endless and enthralling.  She would spend hours pouring over rose catalogues and show me her favorites that she’d like to have one day.  When I’d spend the weekend at her house, we’d wake up in the morning and, coffee in her hand, we would take an early walk around the deck “to say hi” to the roses and see how they’d changed from the day before.  I soon realized that although a day doesn’t seem to be enough time to see a plant change, if you looked close enough, many things could happen in 24 hours.  I grew to appreciate patience and to feel joy over the little things.  And of course she also taught me how to prune roses, which helps me think of her every January when I use her knowledge in my own garden some 25 years later.

Today the hillside that once cradled her home is now covered in overpriced condominiums with fancy cars dotting the drive ways.  To me, that’s not it’s true identity, since it lives on in my memory as it was when I was a child.  It’ll always represent the special part of the earth where I spent many weekends of my childhood spending time with one fantastic lady.

The rose as it lives today, about ready for it's spring bloom.

The rose as it lives today, about ready for it’s spring bloom.

So, this is why, this rose is my most prized and loved garden inhabitant.  I don’t even remember the name of this rose, nor do I care to remember.  To me, it’s just, Dolores.  It’s my grandmother, both unassuming and radiant, delicate and also filled with little thorns.  I would have never known that a rose could live for 30 years in a pot and still it remains, some years battling rust and disease, and other years blooming more profusely than I can ever remember.  It lives on in my yard as it did on her deck so many years ago.  And although my daughter never had the chance to meet Dolores, my daughter can still smell and pick and admire the same blooms that my grandmother and I carefully studied each morning together during my weekend stays on her wooden deck overlooking the sea.

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Spring Garden Firsts

I took my normal walk around the backyard taking photos, as is my M.O., and realized only after looking at them on my computer this morning that each photo represented a first in my garden.  This is the first time I’ve seen my Eva’s Pride peach tree produce fruit:

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And the first time I’ve seen the Double Delight nectarine I bought in January leaf out and bloom:

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And seen the flower up-close:

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And the first time I’ve seen the Thompson Red Seedless grape do this:

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Last year it had just started to produce fruit clusters but before they had a chance to fully form something happened and they either fell off or were eaten by something.

And the first time I’ve seen my favorite specimen (Red Baron peach) blooming against the backdrop of my favorite backyard retreat after being completed last summer:

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Thankful for firsts.

Sweet Baby Cherries!

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Southern California finally had some much anticipated rain and the heavy showers uncovered some welcomed residents: my first ever cherries.

Southern California finally had some much anticipated rain and the heavy showers uncovered some welcomed residents: my first ever cherries.

There's probably about 20 cherries that were successfully pollinated with hopefully more to come.

There’s probably about 20 cherries that were successfully pollinated with hopefully more to come.

DSCN1399I’m unsure if this is typical, but Royal Lee has out-bloomed Minnie Royal by a long shot, but as long as one produces, I suppose that’s the key.  Going outside this morning to see these cherries filled me with a calm, inspired satisfaction.  I asked for just one cherry and I got many more.