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Thanks for stopping by, but it appears you are using a (very) old address for my blog. I've moved to a Wordpress site and you'll need to update your bookmarks for Bees on the Knob

I've moved!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why "The Knob"


Middle English knobbe; akin to Middle Low German knubbe knob
14th century
1 a: a rounded protuberance : lump b: a small rounded ornament or handle
2: a rounded usually isolated hill or mountain
knobbed Listen to the pronunciation of knobbed \ˈnäbd\ adjective
knob·by Listen to the pronunciation of knobby \ˈnä-bē\ adjective
Source: Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary

I don't know when this place became The Knob - in the 50's, my grandfather bought a number of parcels on top of a ridge, some to steep to easily walk on, the others only flat by comparison (perhaps gently graded might suit - although a fair portion is somewhere in between). Some were old home sites (a cistern lasted until the late 80's), the rest possibly part of an old farm (the old barn sort of lasted that long - held up only by the vines that had ripped apart the corners, it fell to the same bulldozer that had to be called when that old cistern fell in). The only flat spot is on the very top of the ridge and was once used as the emergency water tower site by the local water utility (long since gone, now there are air relief valves there, but I suspect the water department has forgotten they exist, since they never use them, even after several incidents where all water pressure was lost due to either large leaks or a crossover to the larger supply lines a few years back.

At the time, he combined the parcels into one "farm" and raised pigs and a garden (but lived in "town" - about 8-10 miles away in the city, this was considered quite far into the country then). Years later, he found a better location 15 miles further out - bordering a lake, it had it's own water source and rich, flat bottom land (ok, sure it flooded out some years - but that little inconvenience just meant a long drive thru a neighbor's farm and taking down a few fences when that occured). Dad purchased the property and rented it out for many years, then we purchased it and moved here in the 80's - fleeing the crowds of southern CA after a stint in the Marine Corps. It was perfect ... almost.

But it was always, from as far back as I can remember, The Knob. A farm on a perhaps not so gently rounded hill. The pigs were long gone by the time I first remember visiting, but not the garden. And on the same road was an old chicken farmer, with a huge brick chicken house. They still candled eggs by hand (and let any kid that stopped by have a try at it) ... and had grapes that they, with my grandfather, turned into wine (and yes, I'll never forget the truly awful taste, in my early teens, when they let me "try" some that was only about half fermented -- something that would cure most teens of even considering alcohol until long after turning a legal drinking age). A commercial apple orchard was next door and several others on this short, less than one mile road, raised cattle. All are now gone (although the apples trees remain, abandoned, it's just a matter of time, it appears, until they too, like the cattle farms, are sold off to become housing developments).

But when we moved in, all that was left were a very few fruit trees, all well past their prime, and a falling down mobile home (ok, it was a trailer) ... from the 50's, a single wide eyesore that we lived in for several years, while clearing that flat spot at the top of the ridge and then building the house we now call home. Since then we've cleared out the old orchard (covered with black locust from seedlings to full grown trees), removed all but one of the old trees as they died (one old apple simply refuses to die - this year it is once again completely covered in fruit, despite being at least 35 and more likely 50 years old) and replacing them with newer ones -- and with a larger selection. Instead of just peaches, apples and sweet cherries (which at 40' high, were unharvestable), there are now figs, nectarines, pluots, apriums, sweet and sour cherries, asian and european pears, several varieties of apples and even pawpaws (only 6 years from seedling to first harvest, these are NOT for the impatient). Grapes dont' do so well in the field (no irrigation), but muscadines are an easy to care for substitute - even the kiwis have a harvest now and then and the organic vegetable garden (in it's second location for the last dozen years) always has something to harvest, even in a dry year. Closer to the house, strawberries (which never survive the wild predators if out of sight) and blueberries (currently under attack by both squirrels and birds) are planted, while in between there are several berries growing wherever nature has planted them: blackberries, red and black raspberries and japanese wineberries (an import gone wild in this area). Rather than compete with tame varieties, we just try to mow these into pickable patches and let them do their thing - in return, they need no fertilizer, spraying or other care, but yield several pints of sweetness every year. There are even a few elderberries here and there - but if you've ever tried to harvest these, you know you really need hundreds of them to make the effort worthwhile.

So, this is The Knob. An organic farm on what is now the outskirts of town (and a fairly large one, at that). On the top of a steep ridge, we have over 450 feet of elevation change from the top to the lowest point (obviously, this isn't Florida, since that entire state has only a 300' feet elevation change and they call that a mountain there). Our house sits right on top of one of the highest points in the county, but the county is in a valley between two mountain ranges - this is definitely only a ridge, not a mountain we live atop. It's also quite a bit louder than when we moved in: a major interstate passes by about 3 miles away as the crow flies and the truck traffic can be heard all night long, while the view away from town now includes numerous houses that light up the night, where at one time you could make believe no one else lived within miles. Compared to those in the city of even nearby subdivisions, it is still quite wild - 20+ acres of mature deciduous forest and the other ten a combination of fields, orchards, garden and homestead. You still can't see those surrounding houses in summer, during the day - but in winter or at night, they are clearly now close by. A small waterfall with tiny pond, home to our amorous bullfrog, helps to cover the noise of nearby roads -- but it doesn't compare with the silence of a truly remote area (such as small town South Dakota, which we visit now and then). Then again, it's a lot less than 25 miles to the nearest store and it's never snowed up to the second story windowsills here, so there are trade-offs to every location.

Oh, and the "Bees" part - they sit in the hives on the border between field and woods. Although there were plenty of wild bees when we moved in, our garden and orchard began to suffer in the 90's due to the die-offs that here hitting wild populations of European Honeybees (at that time, tracheal mites and varroa mites were to blame, rather than the current unknown problems). The trees were often empty of fruit and what was there was misshapen -- even the zucchini didn't have many fruit on them. So, we put in a couple of hives of bees and there they still sit, although the two now there were once up to ten, the two remaining do a more than sufficient job, filling the trees with so much fruit that we often lose branches from the weight.

As to the residents - neither of us are your typical farmers or even true farmers at all (and one only participates under duress). Instead, both of us are from technical backgrounds: electronics and computers. Any work done around here is fitted into spare time and the subject of my posts are as likely to be technical (or about books) as they are to be about outwitting those wily voles that I know are looking for the potatoes again this year.

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