A Forest For Noci

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I don't know how many of you have been following Noci since the beginning. but I can tell you, the Noci I am at today is radically different from the Noci we started with.  

I haven't written many blog post lately.  But I plan on starting up again and sticking to it this time.  I also plan on starting a Youtube channel all about what we are doing at Noci.  I will keep you posted as that project warms up.  A youtube channel has been brewing in my head for years now. 

Today I am focused on our trees.  Yes, we finally have trees. Maybe you have noticed if you have driven by Noci lately.  I start this post by looking at all my old photos on my computer.  All 78,000 of them. As I scrolled looking for the early pictures of Noci, before it was Noci, I was stunned. Time has just gone by without me really noticing. We started this project way back in March of 2014. Over four years ago. Before we had a daughter before my son was a drum master and before I ever thought I could wear a beard.

In the winter of 2014, I drove into a beautiful empty field of weeds, flowers, and wild blackberries. As I sat there on the tailgate of my Landrover discovery (a silver blue color), I couldn't have imagined what we were about to take on. My head was full of dreamy farm ideas.  I had spent the last 10 years reading gardening books, watching Youtube videos of permaculture gurus, market farmers and of course my favorite, Monty Don from the BBC Gardeners World. 

My imagination ran wild with gardening and farm ideas.  I would get sheep, pigs, ducks, chickens and of course a tractor.  We would create a modern version of an organic permaculture farm!  We would design our house, our barns, maybe a pond.  We would have fields of greens, corn, pumpkins and more.

What I didn't really think about at the time was that there were absolutely no trees on the property.   It was a vast open field.  The only trees that did exist were way in the back of the property near the creek. Just a thin sliver of land. There were only a few trees back there, two Black Walnuts, clumps of Acacia's, Willows, Oaks, and a few Elderberry trees hanging off the edge. But nothing out in the vast stretch of land which made up 90% of the property.  For 1800 feet, there was nothing.

A blank field we will someday turn into Noci.  What we didn't see was all the metal buried underground. 

Weeds and wild Blackberrys

Some of the metal piles above ground.

A treeless field for a commercial farm or vineyard is precisely what you want. You would be excited about that unobstructed blazing sun shining across your plants, nothing to shade them out, nothing for them to compete with, they would be the masters of the field.  Plants love the sun. 

Humans are a different story.  We may think we love the sun just as much as the plants do, ask Lindsay Lohan, but the sun doesn't love us.  It wants to age us, wrinkle us,  give us cancer and then kills us.  The sun is out to get us! Ask Donatella Versace.

You don't dare go out in the middle of the day without a ten different types of sunblock on.  I mean in the summer out here it can get unbearably hot. We have many days over 100!  Tomorrow the weather is saying it will be 105 and we are in mid-July 2018.

If your walking the gardens in the heat of the day, it can be a real challenge, trust me, I know, I spent the last four years out here, while I turn into a wrinkled up raisin. I have a red neck the same shade as a baboons ass. My hair went from brown to grey, and my nose is starting to bubble.

Do I wear sunscreen? Yes, loads of it.  I apply 50 SPF sunscreen so thick, I look like I am wearing a racially insensitive white face from those 1930 black and white films. 

I am sure it is no surprise, but we needed to start thinking about getting some shade trees.  The search finally began this past winter.  Our budget was tight. Well, our budget was gone, let us be honest. We had spent the bulk of our cash on irrigation, edible plants, blueberry bushes,  architects, engineers, permits and 900 fruit trees, which I drove to Oregon to get. 

So the search was on for trees.  Step one was to hit all the local tree nurseries.  We have a tree candy store called Urban Tree Farm, where we quickly discovered we would never have enough cash to tree our out million sqft of land.   A single tree started around $250 and went as high as 4,000 dollars a tree.  And the trees were not that big.  We are talking 8 to 16 feet at most.  At those prices, we would have to settle for a handful of trees.  We would have to run from tree to tree. Like little shade islands.   We had to rethink this and move on to buying those $50 to $100 twigs from the online nurseries.

And that is exactly what we started to do.  I stayed up late, searching for fast-growing trees.  Of course, we found a site called fast-growing trees. They sell sticks with roots.  Fast growing sticks, but still sticks.  We purchased 50 or so. Today, those sticks are still, sticks.  Yes someday, they will be trees.  Someday they will be 35 ft tall with a massive canopy of leaves.  But I will be 102 years old, and won't be able to see them because I have gone blind.  What I mean is, we don't have time to wait.  We needed to keep looking for another solution.

Lucky for us, Michael our Assistant Director of Gardening, stumbled on a tree company closing up shop in Santa Rosa.  They had five hundred or so large maples and other trees.  The trees were in small fabric pots, with their roots begging to get out.   Not the most cared for trees, but the price was right.  We had a lot of sq ft of land to tree out.  We need a deal, and these trees cost us between $35 to $65 a piece. That is a deal.  We jumped on them and purchased over 300.  Which was still a lot of money, $15k

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The trees were big.  They are all 16 to 20 feet tall. We got October Glory Maples, Japanese Katsura, Crimson King Maple, Bloodgood Japanese Maples, Chinese Pistache and Crape Myrtles.

Now that we have the trees, we had to figure out how would we plant so many of them.  Well, it has taken us months. We have been slowly moving our way from the back of Noci to the front.  Spreading the trees out along our many pathways and along the roads.   We also decided to create two giant areas of grass and trees.  We call these areas our forest zones.  These zones include all the land along the road in front of our buildings and all the land between the back of the buildings to the natural ponds.  We planted over 100 trees in these areas alone. It is our heavy clay soil, and it is challenging to garden.  Grass and trees seem like a good idea for this part of the garden.

After all these years, Noci is starting to feel like a real place.  Dare I say, even feeling nearly done.  We can see the end of construction coming. With the trees in, and the grass and clover seeds spread out.  Noci will soon be a cool place to take a break from that ever-present Sonoma sun.  It may take a few years to mature, but it will be worth the wait. And yes we are only talking a few years. In less than three years we should have many 30 ft beautiful trees.

We just feel so lucky to have found these trees.  I am sure they feel fortunate as well, to get out of those pots and to get their roots deep in the soil.  They will be the keepers of the gardens long after we are gone.  They bring something unique to the landscape which our buildings and trellis walls just can't do.  And because most of them are Maples, the Fall season will be full of reds leaves stretching across the entire property.  It should be a sight to see.

For me, it is just another gardening lesson.  As much as I try to plan out the gardens, some of the best parts just are pure luck.  Just keep your eyes open and be willing to adapt and change when something this good comes along.   That pretty much defines my approach to life.  Keep my eyes open and jump on the good stuff if you can.

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