A year ago ‘Mr. Curbstone Valley’ had a bright idea, and suggested that I should start a blog.  My response was ‘why, what on earth do I have to say that anyone would want to read?‘  Then I realized that it didn’t really matter if anyone wanted to read it.  I did wonder though if we’d have enough to blog about, and I expected we’d run out of material after a few posts.  More than a hundred posts later, I’ve realized I was wrong.

We knew when we bought this property that we had our work cut out for the two of us.  We’ve had gardens before, but this was an order of magnitude different from anything we’d maintained previously. Even with small gardens though, as things take shape, and plants fill in, it becomes difficult to remember how things looked at the beginning.  So I agreed to try, at least for while, to start documenting our efforts (and discoveries) here.

We knew when we bought Curbstone Valley that we had trees…lots…and lots…and lots of trees.


This is in part why we bought the property.  I remember as a child spending hours walking through woodlands, along the canal banks, and through pastures, and it’s always where I feel at home, outdoors, surrounded by nature.  When we moved here, we simply thought we were moving to the woods.

This property is surrounded by trees

We love to garden, but what ‘style’ of gardening would be appropriate here, and more importantly, what would grow?  Over the years we had experience gardening both in dense shade, and in full sun, and both could be found here.  Our last garden also provided us with plenty of hardscaping experience too.

Our last garden began as an empty plot. We designed the garden, installed the cobble, the pond…

…and a terraced patio, and garden, by ourselves. We were ready for a new challenge…

However, we sat dazed for most of the first two years here, mostly feeling overwhelmed, watching as small herds of deer grazed on almost everything in sight.  Then we wondered COULD we grow anything here?  Deer, gophers, rabbits, voles, slopes, drainage issues, dead trees everywhere.  It was difficult figuring out where to start.

We also have the challenge, living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, of elevation changes on the property.  There are few places here that are perfectly flat, and we run the gamut from level ground to sheer slopes.  The lowest points on the property are approximately 460 feet above sea level, the highest point, is 720.  That’s an elevation change of 260 feet, within seven and half acres!

We started by clearing poison oak and dying trees

We had to start somewhere, so we began by identifying where we’d like to plant an orchard and garden.  We cleaned up some very neglected areas of the property. We beat back the poison oak, and cleared dead trees, and invasive brush.

We envisioned an orchard here…but we’re sure everyone thought we were crazy.  They might still be right!

We envisioned an orchard on this slope…someday…

However, an overhead view of the area after we were done clearing this slope did show we were making progress.

Eventually the area started to take shape (click image for larger view)

Just as we were getting going, our El Niño winter arrived early with a record-breaking storm, courtesy of the remnants of typhoon Melor slamming into the California coast.  We tried to be prepared, but Nature will always throw you a few curves.

We don’t usually see waterfalls here in October…

We were side-tracked for weeks clearing fallen trees and branches.

Trees were down all over the property after typhoon Melor

After drying out for a while we spent months installing, and perfecting our perimeter deer fence, much to the entertainment of the deer.

With the slope clear, we began to install the fence posts…

Then in November, Curbstone Valley Farm became a Certified Wildlife Habitat.

We came to realize this property was a special place for native plants and animals

During the winter months, while driving in fence stakes, and installing orchard irrigation lines, we discovered a whole world of fabulous fungi growing around the property, and even a fascinating slime mold, and so Curbstone Valley’s ‘Mushroom Mondays’ were spawned.

Just one of many species of fungi lurking in our woodlands this last winter

By spring, as the fungi and the rains receded, we thought the deer fence was finished, but were proven wrong, on numerous occasions, as our daring dastardly deer succeeded in jumping over, and pushing under the fence, repeatedly…and even breaking clean through it.  Our deer population also grew significantly this spring.

MORE deer! Good thing they’re cute…

In spring as the daffodils emerged, we finally planted out the orchard.  We haven’t allowed the trees to set fruit this year while they establish their roots, except for a few peaches on the Frost peach that we acquired last year.

A taste of things to come, as this…

Believe it or not we pulled 68 peaches off our immature tree before the fruits were an inch in diameter, and still ended up with these, which were almost enough to pull the tree over (that’s how small the tree is).

Frost Peaches

…became these! Frost Peaches, a yellow semi-freestone variety

We can’t wait to see what this tree can do once it’s established!

Our blueberries also set fruit this year, but the deer had most of those.

We planted five varieties of blueberries this year…next year, we’re not sharing with the deer

We discovered throughout the spring numerous native plants and flowers that were growing on the property that we weren’t previously aware of.

After finding so many native species here, we realized we don’t have to plant as much. Just encourage those species that are already here

Then as we were just starting to work on the vegetable growing areas, we decided to add more chickens to the farm.  Thus Curbstone Valley ‘Fowl Fridays’ were born.

Our chicks arrived March 29th

Lest we shouldn’t have enough going on, it didn’t stop there. Then we added turkeys!

Turkeys?!? Wait…that wasn’t in the plan…

This resulted in more construction projects in the form of poultry pens, and arks, and some delays in getting the garden going.  Did I mention there’s only two of us?

Our old hens moved out into the garden this year

We eventually turned our attention back toward the garden. This is where I wish I’d taken more ‘before’ photographs.  However, this will give you an idea of where we started…although somehow the picture doesn’t do it justice.

Southwest corner of the future vegetable garden. Note Madrone trunk on right edge toward the back

This at least is progress!

Same southwestern corner of the garden as above, note the Madrone trunk behind the rear right raised bed

Providing the fence holds, this is the view the deer will have from now on from the slope above the garden

We’ve grown a number of greens in this part of the garden this year.

Tatsoi, broccoli, kale, and lettuce were abundant in the early season

Our tomatoes are so much happier so far this year than last, well, except for some persistent mid-summer fog and cool temperatures, that are slowing their ripening this year.

The small cherry tomatoes are ripening…

The large heirlooms, like this Texas Star, need some more sun before they start to turn

The peppers should perk up once the weather warms…if the weather warms.

Our ‘Lipstick’ peppers are hoping for some warmer weather soon

Our basil though doesn’t seem to mind the chill and the damp too much.

Basil ‘Nufar’

The rosemary seems quite happy too.

Rosemary in bloom

On the upside, our cool summer weather though has enabled us to continuously produce wonderful heads of lettuce all season so far.

We still have plenty of lettuce growing

The red-veined Sorrel is appreciating the cooler summer weather too.

Red-veined sorrel is new in the garden this year

We’re steadily making progress, but many more projects await us.  First, we have coop number THREE to build, to house our now homeless rooster.  We still have a lot more to do in the vegetable garden area, including building a retaining wall, and constructing a hybrid shed-greenhouse, before we can add more raised beds to the gardens.  Once the remaining raised beds are installed we can finally lay out our permanent drip irrigation lines in the vegetable garden.  We’re also planning to seed many more native annuals and perennials in the orchard and gardens when the rains return this autumn.

I hate to admit it, but we’ve really only just started.  I wonder what the next hundred posts will bring?