The Labor of our Fruits

One of our ten new bare-root fruit trees now ready for Spring to come.

January has continued December’s trend of mild temperatures and rain instead of snow. Several times the transition from rain to snow occurred just above our 5000 ft elevation.

A mid-January view from the deck of the Trestlewood Chalet. There is some snow on the ridge above us to the East, but none at our location just a few hundred feet below.

This shift from snow in January to rain has been the trend for the last three or more winters. It is in obvious and stark contrast to winters of the prior decade, when December through February were historically the most difficult months for me to keep the driveway free of snow and ice.

It has not been a “dry” winter; just a warm one. Total precipitation for just the first half of January as measured at the Logger’s Retreat weather station was close to 2.5 inches.

We took this opportunity of a mild January to plant ten new bare-root fruit trees in the yard space around the Trestlewood Chalet.

My landscaper/arborist brother had suggested this as a way to replace the previous fruit trees that the Railroad Fire had either damaged or killed. We thought is would also be a good “practice run” for the eventual tree planting we will do on the Logger’s Retreat property, after the house and garage are rebuilt.

The first step was to dig holes in the rocky hillside below the Trestlewood Chalet’s deck. We were fortunate to have the generous assistance of two very dear friends who probably ended up having more of a “working weekend” than they had anticipated! But the soil was quite soft and workable after several months of rain, so the digging of ten holes in steep, rocky soil went fairly quickly.

The now-pockmarked yard below the Trestlewood Chalet’s main deck awaits its new residents.

By the following afternoon all of our new fruit trees were resting comfortably in their new homes.

The new fruit trees take their places around the survivors of the Railroad Fire.

As you can see, the weekend weather was absolutely beautiful — cool and sunny, with bright blue skies and puffy white clouds.

The green of young rye grass is clearly visible among the erosion control mats now.

It has been a month since we last saw the rye grass we planted for erosion control. We can tell that even the grass has been enjoying this mild winter weather.

Good Weather and Crappy Designs

close up image of rye grass sproutsRye grass sprouts poke through the erosion control matting.

December’s weather turned out to be relatively warm and mild. The Logger’s Retreat weather station recorded a total of 1.82 inches of rain, all of it coming in the second half of the month. We used the mild weather to try to make progress on the septic system design.

Most of the original design had been approved, but code requires you to also designate a 100% expansion area for the leach field — in other words, a place where you plan to put a second leach field if at some time in the distant future the primary leach field fails.

For reasons I won’t bother to explain here, the designer had specified that expansion area to be under the driveway (!) — which is a definite no-no for many reasons, not least of which is explicitly the California Plumbing Code.

So to get a new design approved, we needed to identify a second area large enough for our leach field that was not under any paving. (We also needed to find a new septic system designer.)

The obvious (and pretty much the only) place for an expansion area that size has always been the large, unused, steeply sloped area at the south-east corner of the property.

A sketch showing a possible expansion area (in yellow) near the southeast corner of the property

We were also fortunate to find a (very good BTW) civil engineer in the area who was comfortable designing conventional septic systems on steep slopes. He could start working on the design in January, after the holidays.

Measuring Up

While the December weather was cooperating we spent some time making sure our sketches matched “ground truth.” Now, I’m not a Surveyor (and I don’t play one on TV either), but still I tried to act like one as best I could.

I mounted a commercial laser measuring tool on a tripod and used short lengths of 2 inch diameter PVC pipe as targets. (They slip nicely over wooden grade stakes and make it easier to see the laser dot from far away.)

Using a laser measurement tool to accurately map out the drain field area

The laser tool is fancy enough to have an inclinometer built in, so I was able to use it not only to verify distances, but also confirm slopes and elevation profiles.

That little vertical white line in the distance is the target.

Finding, and then placing the tiny laser dot on the target are the biggest challenges with this method, especially in bright sunlight! (Don’t even try.) And there is no way to do this without the tripod, because you simply cannot hold the laser steady enough by hand.

A later, now accurate sketch showing possible leach line locations for the septic system.

But the technique worked well enough for me to have confidence that the sketched designs were accurate enough to be buildable. Progress!

An Erosion Update

While on site playing Surveyor, I also took some time to “survey” the erosion control mats and the rye grass seed my brother had planted in November. In the last week of that month the Logger’s Retreat weather station recorded 1.32 inches of rain. I was curious to see whether or not our erosion control efforts had done any good.

In the warm, sunny spots some of the grass seed had sprouted, but just barely. Still, the erosion control matting itself was doing a great job of holding the soil in place.

The erosion control mats are doing their job nicely…

Wherever we had placed the mats, there was virtually no loss of soil to speak of. Whereas only a few feet away, it was a different story.

…preventing erosion like this.

So while the green rye grass sprouts may be nicer to look at, it seems pretty clear to me that the loosely-woven, ugly coconut-husk erosion control matting is really all that you need.

My December site survey also noted that we were not the only ones surveying the property….

Someone else had been visiting the Logger’s Retreat..