Fruit Trees – Planting and Pruning

The rain finally arrived and we are grateful as the entire garden sighs with relief! This week finds us pruning roses and fruit trees, looking for the perfect new fruit trees to add to the chicken yard. Soon we will be putting the artichoke plants in the ground, too! It’s hard to get outside and do these winter projects when I’d rather be sitting with a good book all snuggled up in the warm house with the smell of freshly baked muffins. To take advantage of these, join the weekly bulletin and order some for yourself to enjoy!

applesauce oat muffins

Later, though, I will be glad that I got off my butt and enjoyed some fresh air in the garden. Hopefully, the new sprouting box will be finished next week – this is Ofer’s winter project – so that Ofer can start planting the seeds that we want for planting in the spring. We are hoping to get an earlier start than usual this year. We’ll see if that works out.

This weekend the weather was lovely again and we brought home our new fruit trees and got out in the garden for a day of work. Ofer and I started with pruning the trees in the orchard that needed winter pruning. Winter is not a good time to prune your citrus trees, so those we left alone. Ofer gave me some instructions and I was pleased to learn that the pruning is reminiscent of pruning roses and found that it is easier than I thought it would be.

pruning demo

The prune plum, fuji apple, persimmon, peaches and figs are all much happier after some pruning. It is amazing to feel the lightness and joy emanating from the trees after a good pruning! The apple is especially pleased to be straightened out and ready to stand tall and strong.

Next we planted our new trees – persimmon, snow queen nectarines and bing cherries. It takes a few years for them to produce much fruit, but the wait is worth it! The trees are about a year old when you buy them, so it’s already shorter than it seems. We prefer the bare root trees over the older, more expensive potted ones.

Find a place with sufficient sun for fruit trees. Citrus need some protection if you get frost so be careful of that. Then dig a big hole. It helps to have two manly men around to do that for you! And plenty of chickens to direct.

Make sure when you put in the tree that you leave the bulb at the top of the roots above ground. Don’t add fertilizer at this point because the tree is still dormant and doesn’t have any use for the extra food. Do give it lots of water though if it isn’t raining. We like to put posts around the trees to keep them straight as they grow. We learned to do this the hard way and that’s why we are now straightening up the apple tree (see above). Best to do it from the start!

Since we are planting in the chicken yard, we have added bricks around the outer perimeter of the trees to protect them from digging chickens. Now, hopefully, the rain will return to soak our new trees!


Chicken Coop Fiasco

Last year I was determined to replace the old chicken coop we had. So, I found a guy who seemed like a capable carpenter and ordered a chicken coop. We went over the details as he drew it beautifully on a piece of paper. We agreed that he would give me a good deal on the price if I waited until winter. That was in July.

A month ago, he came by and collected old wood and fencing materials to use for the coop construction. One of the things I really like about him is his dedication to reuse of materials. Two weeks ago, as agreed, he delivered the coop. The problem was, that he had just finished the floor and it needed time to dry and off-gas (I had requested a surface that could be cleaned readily). So, the old coop was left in place for another week.

As I looked more closely at the awaiting coop, I realized that it did not fit the design he had drawn. I had asked him to put 4 or 5 nesting boxes on the outside of the coop at waist level, with a lid to open on top to reach in and collect eggs. I even showed him a picture. Instead, he had built 6 huge boxes inside the coop with doors that open from the ground up. I decided not to say anything, as it really was a beautifully built coop and I figured it was too late to fix such a major design element.

Well, then, the coop was actually put into its rightful place and we started to use the coop. As the week went on, I realized how many problems there were with the design. These are issues that only became apparent with the use of the coop.When, I opened the door to collect eggs, the chickens in the boxes were frightened away.

Box doors

There was no back to the boxes, so the eggs could roll out when opening the doors. In fact, the box edges at the front were quite high and made it harder for the chickens to get in the boxes. And, the doors were so long that I couldn’t just peek in and see if there was an egg to collect. In the picture here, the old door is on the left and the new placement on the right.

Then, there is the roosting bar. Did you know that chickens like to roost like on a branch when they sleep?  This way, when they poop (yes, they do this while sleeping!) the poop drops underneath them and they stay clean. A good chicken coop can mimic nature and offer comfort for the chickens. The roosting bar needs to be readily accessible so the chickens will use it. This one was too high and placed so that it was hard for the chickens to get to it. They preferred to sleep on the top of the nesting boxes which should have been outside and unavailable. Since chickens like to climb on things (remember they’re birds) their poop is all over the nesting box surface. So, they have been sleeping in their own poop.

roosting bar

Having the nesting boxes inside created a space problem as well. The lovely width of the coop is now compromised by the boxes taking up space. Having a place for the feeder (inside the coop in case we actually get any rain this winter) was the next issue. At first I placed the feeder on the top of the boxes, but that didn’t work because the chickens pooped in the feeder. They’re really not very smart animals. Ever heard the phrase “birdbrain”? So, anyway, then we put it hanging from the rafter. But, with the roosting bar in its place, the chickens still were pooping in the food (there actually was one or two that achieved the roosting bar to sleep). A definite fiasco!

Thankfully, I have a capable husband, a willing son and a creative imagination. Between the three of us, we have rearranged to make a functional coop for our peace of mind. Here’s what we did.

1. Cut the roosting bar to a more reasonable length and put it in a corner so the chickens can get to it easily.

2. Block off three of the nesting boxes, so we don’t have to play “Where’s the egg?”

Open box door

3. Turn the nesting box door upside down so it opens from the top.

4. Raise the floor of the nesting boxes so the chickens don’t have to step over a big lip to get into a box and it is easier to reach in and collect eggs. My arms aren’t as long as the doors. Now I can peek in and see if there’s an egg without scaring the poor chickens to death!

5. Hang the feeder from the rafter in a new place away from pooping activities.

Inside coop

6. Fix the door latch so that the raccoons can’t open it.

door latch

The good news is a useful electronic door was installed (see it at the back of the photo on the left). When set properly it will open the door in the mornings for the chickens to get out and close them in at night. Now everyone is happy and we are celebrating our new coop!

The moral of the story is, be extra careful when getting a coop (even pre-fabricated stuff can have mistakes).

New coop

With the cold weather this year our feather-footed chicken, Coq au vin (Coco for short) has grown amazing feathers on her feet. I’ve never seen them look this way before!

Coco's long foot feathers


Cooking Classes at Sugi Garden

Cooking inspiration hits me on a regular basis when I garden. Often it is because I have extra produce that I need to figure out what to do with it. So the creative juices get going. At this time of year, it’s because I spend more time inside and therefore, in the kitchen.

Recently, Myra Nissen, an associate of mine, has asked that I teach some cooking classes for her clientele (she is a Metabolic Balance Coach).

Myra Nissen

She has found that many people don’t have basic cooking skills and have a hard time finding their way around the kitchen. I, myself, have noticed that the idea of seasonal eating has been lost by many. Even with the farmer’s markets these days it can be hard to know what is in season. Some people use hothouses and keep crops available all year long.

So, I’ve designed some classes that will offer you the joyful experience of simple, healthy foods and how tasty they truly are!
Here’s the first of the classes we are offering.  These classes will give you the skills to prepare with ease the tastiest (and healthiest) meals ever!

All meals feature seasonal, local, organic, and freshly made foods.

Winter Menu Class
We will cook (and eat!) a full menu of dishes, from appetizer to dessert, based on fresh foods that are available locally in the winter.

Saturday, Jan. 21     10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.      $88
Registration deadline – Sat. Jan. 14

pomegranate seed salad

veggie broth



 If you have specific foods you are interested in learning how to cook, let me know! I’d be happy to take your suggestions into consideration when I plan future classes.





Miso and Tahini Class
Miso (fermented soybean paste) and Tahini (sesame butter) are both often used in Japanese and Middle-Eastern cooking. Miso is filled with enzymes for healthy digestion. Tahini has loads of omegas for immune system support. Learn how to cook simple recipes for miso and tahini.  We will be featuring fresh produce that is available during this sweet time between winter and spring. You’ll be amazed at the delicious and unique ways that these two complementary flavors can enhance your meals! We will be using our own homemade misos and tahini for this class.

Sunday, Feb. 5     2:00 – 6:00 p.m.      $88
Registration deadline – Sat. Jan. 28

To register, send your check with name, email and phone number to:

Sugi Health, 2096 Hoover Ave., Pleasant Hill, CA 94523

Please identify what class you are registering for.