James’ SLO Life… Fireworks and Family

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The 4th of July is one of those holidays that stir up many fond memories of my childhood back in Hawthorne, CA. I was fortunate enough to live on a cul-de-sac with a broken street light, in one of the last few cities in LA that still allow fireworks. We had a lot of kids on my street growing up, so it was kind of an unofficial block party every year. Plus, the perks that came with having a police officer for a dad was that the quality of fireworks tended to be much greater with little risk of getting in trouble. Honestly, the things we used to do, it’s amazing that no one ever got hurt. I specifically remember a mortar shell exploding at knee level in the middle of the street, surrounded by people.

Now, living in Templeton; I have the pleasure of raising my kids on a cul-de-sac (with a broken street light) in one of the last cities in the 805 to allow fireworks. I was like a little kid when I saw a stand open up on Las Tablas on Sunday to start selling those wonderful, if not fleeting, sticks of mixed powder that seem to brighten everyone’s eyes to the point of “blindness”. I can’t wait to get my hands on some “piccolo petes” and start crimping them down to make them a little more fun then they are set up to be (unsafe and insane?). After seeing my daughter in Ohio with the fireworks and her reactions to them, I am excited to spend my time with the whole family, partaking in a great American tradition (yes, I know fireworks were invented by the Chinese).

If planning on spending the 4th in north county, make sure to hit up those firework stands in Templeton (and please only use them in Templeton). While Atascadero and Templeton both have daytime events, there will be no firework show this year (as of July 1st) at Barney Schwartz Park in Paso Robles. With Robert Hall Winery also canceling their big function, North County seems to not be the happening place for events. Most [in North County] will be flocking to Templeton Park to light fireworks with half of the county. I am gonna invite some friends over and light up my cul-de-sac, with the broken street light, in a great show of dazzling fire and sparks before shifting into Ramadan on Monday the 8th. What? James is Muslim? More on that next time. Be safe and enjoy your 4th of July.

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James’ SLO Life…Templeton Concerts in the Park

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This week kicks off my favorite event each Summer, Concert in the Park. Each city seems to have their own, so practically everyday, somewhere in SLO county, there is live music playing in a park.  Even before living in Templeton I would frequent their concerts because that is where my fellow crew members at Trader Joe’s would gather together. Concerts are held on Wednesdays from 6:30-8:30 and covers a whole spectrum of musical tastes but seems to focus on blues and rock this year. If you are planning on attending, I suggest arriving early as seating is first come first served on the grass and the later you arrive, the further away you will have to park.  Bring a blanket for the ground and one for cover since the evenings can get cool as the sun sets. This also seems to be the only time no one is paying attention to open container laws as half of the people there are drinking wine and carrying on, but keeping it under control and cleaning up after themselves to avoid losing that privilege. If you have kids, this is a great place to bring them. Once the music starts, you will be hard pressed to find a group of kids not moving their feet and dancing with each other to the great tunes coming from the band. Food is a must if planning on being there the whole 2 hours. Even if you think you won’t be, once you are having a good time you see everyone else munching on goodies, you are going to want snacks as well. The last thing I suggest bringing is a flashlight.  Templeton has very little street lights and it gets pitch black on some nights while walking back to the car and the risk for tripping is very high due to badly paved streets in that neighborhood.

These concerts are a great opportunity to get out into the community and meet your neighbors and if with kids, an opportunity to meet potential play dates. Families abound and your kid is going to meet someone they enjoy playing with while there. Also, each show is sponsored by local businesses (including TJ’s) and is a great way to promote and find out about your local options for goods and services to help your community grow. Most importantly, there is great music.  These bands tend to be some of the best local musicians in the area and they all play their hearts out for the 2 hours they are up there. Come support local music and you never know, you may stumble across your new favorite act, and find out that the guitarist lives next door to you. These concerts are great fun for the whole family and are great ways to get to know your community further. So check out your local concert in the park and let’s listen to some great music together.

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James’ SLO Life…Adventures in Gardening

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Vegetable Garden Image courtesy of Simon Howden

As we creep into June, many of us have our garden in full swing. Last year was my big “learning year” with my garden. Having lived in L.A. my whole life, I got used to being able to grow a garden with almost no effort and much like South County SLO, the thermal belt helps to keep the temperature at a pretty consistent average.  Now that I live in North County SLO, I was confronted with a whole slew of new situations.

To start it off, I had to decide how to plant.  My intention was to plant straight into the ground but unfortunately the landscaping of my neighborhood was done with probably the cheapest fill I have ever seen.  It is about 70% rocks in a place that should be 50% sand. I decided to build a garden box to house the majority of our produce to get the benefit of the insulation factor of the ground without all the rocks. By the way, gophers are a problem up here so always line the underside of your box with chicken wire to keep them out. Also, i don’t recommend combining tomatoes with anything else in the planter box. Tomatoes will grow as wide as you allow them room and will take over so I suggest either straight into the ground or in a bin.

Just driving up the Cuesta Grade, the climate changes drastically. From November until May, the risk of frost is very prominent. Most plants will completely die off in the winter (especially if planted in bins) and will need to be replanted next year. Come April, planting can start on some types of plants but will need to be covered and protected from freezing at night to survive. I picked up 7 different varieties of tomatoes from Cal Poly Tomato Sale mid April but waited til May 1st to permanently plant them outside in bins. Once Summer is in full swing, now the risk is frying the plants.  We pretty much have an 85 degree difference between Winter and Summer up in North County so from the beginning to the end of the growing season, you will be changing up your game plan a couple times. At the beginning, watering in the morning only seems to be the best since the water will freeze at night if watered too late in afternoon.  In the Summer, I am competing against 100+ degree weather with super intense sun, so I am watering a few times a day to keep my plants cool.

This brings me to my next issue I learned about, Water. Water in North County is a big concern as of late. Paso Robles has mandatory water rationing in effect this year and everyone is gonna feel the effect. Water is life, but can also kill your plants. With the intensity of the sun up here, any droplets of water on your plants will act as a magnifying glass and burn your plants. So because of this problem and the drought problem, I recommend a drip system.  They are moderately cheap and easy to set up and will save you loads of money on water since its going straight to the roots and not running off into the weeds (or wildflowers if still Spring). I set up a watering schedule set on a timer that waters for 15 minutes in the morning, 10 in the middle of the afternoon to cool down, and 15 minutes in the evening right as the sun is setting and my plants seem to be quite happy with lots of foliage, fruit starting to grow and minimal leaf burning.

Produce ain’t cheap, and feeding a family the right amount of fruit and veggies can get expensive.  Once underway, the cost of your groceries should reduce dramatically while the benefits and joys of backyard produce is amplified now that the new local ordinance has passed allowing unlicensed sale of non perishable goods such as produce and eggs. Giving friends and family produce is great but it is kinda cool to be able to get some cash money as well as appreciation for all your hard work. In a couple more weeks, I should be bringing in about a plate of produce a day and will be enjoying the fruit of my labor (pun intended) and highly recommend anyone with the interest to give it a try. With a little practice and research, anyone can turn themselves into a regular Dr. Greenthumb.

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James’ SLO Life…Everywhere a Cluck Cluck

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When my wife and I started our house search she made one thing clear, she wanted to be able to raise chickens.  So, after almost a year of searching, we found a house with a yard big enough to allow us to raise our own flock. Coming from the mean streets of the South Bay, I had no clue how to even begin that endeavor. To the internet! After searching through dozens of designs I decided to combine a lot of the different ideas for constructing what will be our chickens’ shelter from predators and roosting spot for laying eggs. I chose a basic A frame design for both cost and durability. Now really they can and will roost in anything that provides good enough shelter. A friend of mine has a couple that took over an old doll house.

Now came the chickens. We went over to Farm Supply in Paso and picked up a couple of Buff Orpingtons and brought them home.  I didn’t realize that when that young, they need to be put in an enclosed space like a bath tub for about 2-3 months.  So I gave up my bathroom to these fluffy yellow squeakers we named Hen Solo and Chewpecka, in hopes that one day the repay my kindness.  Well right after we got these 2, a friend of mine at work worked out a deal with my wife and I ended up with 2 Turkens added to my first experience raising chickens ever. Newly Christened Bellachix Freerange and Princess Laya Organic, they move into the brand new coop and start laying immediately, while the 2 Buffs are content with their tub for the time being.

This is where the learning really starts to happen. First issue…POOP.  So much poop everywhere. You think with a kid I would be used to this but let me tell you, everywhere you step, POOP. Constant cleaning is necessary for healthy chickens. Also, keep them out of your garden, they will destroy it digging for bugs and they have a taste for squash. Then a sad day. Chewpecka laid down to sleep one day and didn’t wake back up. This is common in the chicks.  Sometimes they just don’t make it which is why they lay so many eggs. And here is another issue, They need partners.  2 chickens do way better than 1 and 3 ends up a blood bath.  When we introduced Hen Solo to the other 2, they immediately jumped on her and started tearing out feathers. She was outnumbered and she knew it so she got a few beatings from Laya who has placed herself as head of the pecking order.  Solo ends up living up to her name and starts sleeping on top of the coop which she still does to this day. It was apparent that I needed another coop if we were to continue growing our flock so I gathered all the scrap wood I could find and built a much larger coop than the first one which also included a raised roosting area to be up away from danger. The last big learning lesson of that first year was that chickens are terrible swimmers.  We went out to find Laya Organic face down in our wading pool. We questioned Solo(since we all know he actually shot first in that bar in Mos Islay), but came to the conclusion it was an accident and no “fowl” play was involved. So I built a fence and separated them from the recreation side of the yard.

So here I am, year 2 of my chicken raising experience and I love it!  We have added 4 more birds (Chewpecka the 2nd, The Lone Free Ranger, Darth Feather, and Annihen Skyclucker). To continue with our Star Wars nerd out we also named our Flock yard “the Millennium Fowl-pen”. Don’t be jealous because you didn’t think of it first.  My daughter has a blast with them.  She loves chasing them around the yard trying to catch them and loves feeding them. She tries to help collect the eggs(which we get between 3-6 a day) but her little hands tend to cause more damage than help but it is a great experience either way. I’ve started selling 6pks to my coworkers at Trader Joe’s and everyone seems to enjoy them.  If you have been thinking about raising chickens, I highly recommend it, the amount of work put in is way less than the payoff when you are bringing in 1/2 dozen a day of free range, dark yellow yolked eggs that you, yourself helped bring to the table.

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