Beach Tractors Speak at SLO Master Gardeners and Rare Fruit Growers Event

When Nell Wade of SLO Master Gardeners, asked if the Beach Tractors might be interested to speak at a upcoming SLO Master Gardener’s event and meeting, our first thought was: what in the world could a group of novices like us possibly teach this audience on the subject of growing…well anything?  We had to remember that our experience had many dimensions, growing things in the ground being just one part.

From Jolie….

This past Saturday, John, Kayden and I spoke at a Master Gardeners and Rare Fruit Growers event. There were 105 people in attendance. The meeting took place at the Master Gardeners garden next to the public health department. The garden itself is a cooperative with the University of California and is in its infancy, but already contains a lot of fruits, vegetables, decorative and landscaping plants in two years of operation. There were several students and teachers in attendance as well because today there was a teaching garden workshop where teachers planted and learned how to teach others about gardening. It is a great garden and worth a visit.

It was truly a fun time to share our experience. We casually spoke about what we did and then folks asked questions. Most of the questions had less to do with growing plants and more to do with other parts of the experience. One man was very impressed by Kayden and gave him a banana plant. Nell, the woman who invited us, gave us a huge basket of heirloom tomatoes, grown in the MG garden, to share with our group.

They are excited to have The Beach Tractors present at the regular November monthly Master Gardeners meeting.  The Master Gardeners group does a lot of community education and their presentations sound very interesting and I highly recommend attending a meeting, so you can learn more about what they do.

Master Gardener's Rare Fruit Grower Event
Rare Fruit Grower’s Event

Beach Tractors Win!

On Sunday, October 3, 11 of the 15 Tractors were able to attend the Savor the Central Coast event where the winner of the One Block Diet contest was to be announced.  We’d worked hard and it was time to bring the experience to a close as official winners or not.  It was great to meet fellow contestants — 7 of the 10 teams had representatives at Savor — and an inspiration to hear all that each team had accomplished and experienced. It was all the more humbling then to have been selected as the winner!

Margo’s latest blog post:

Annnouncement One Block Diet Contest

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Team Tractor Gibsey Posts About Our Feasts

Through this summer experience, we have gotten to know one another on another level.  Talents were revealed and one of them is Gibsey Beckett’s writing, who before this contest, I had no idea that she was a writer (piano teacher, marathoner, Pavlova maker — our feast dessert, thanks to Gibsey — and the list goes on about Gibsey and everyone else on our team).
She has been writing a blog for SLO Coast Journal describing her experiences and impressions along the way and here is her final post.  Enjoy!

Props to Chef Len

Our feast is over (amazing, stupendous and every other word that just can’t sum it up) and there will soon be a slew of posts to bring everyone up to speed.  But until then, I just want to give props to Chef Len, the owner of the Papagallo II, for being an incredible host and to point you to his wonderful post about our gathering.


Kids Grow!


Our lives as farmers here in the Beach Tract intersect with our lives as parents so we needed to find a way to integrate our children into the One Block Feast contest.  Among the 8 families in the competition, there are 16 children.  We are only 15 adults so we are outnumbered by one!

Yet, we knew the kids needed to have some fun with this contest.  We may be serious on this blog about our snail deterrent measures and our mulch selection, but this is one big yawn to our kids.
We decided to try the Lord of the Flies approach to gardening and gave the kids a space to do their own thing and to plant their own garden with minimum involvement from adults.  Beach Tractor Christi volunteered her large and empty back yard (the ONLY large yard in the neighborhood!) to become the Children’s Garden and the kids helped the adults do the dirty work of building raised beds and rolling in some wine barrel planters.
Then, we turned it over to the older kids Macy, Kayden, Maggie & Maia to organize and direct the younger ones in planting and maintenance.  Our lone teen, Shae, acts as the photographer.

Macy, Maia & Kayden's planting class.

Maggie explains how to heat up the soil.

Mulch masters!

The kids moved mulch and planted seeds and starters and got dirty as they began their garden.  Each family was assigned a day of the week to visit the children’s garden to water and observe the growing process.

Getting in touch with gardening.

Families bike over, check out the garden, chat with neighbors.  We decorated the garden with colorful flags and named all the veggies in Spanish and English since some of the kids attend a Spanish immersion elementary school.  We added tables and chairs to make the garden a place to hang out in.
During the 4th of July weekend, the kids’ garden hosted a bike decorating party for the neighbors to prepare their bikes for Morro Bay’s 4th of July Bike Parade.  We even organized a pre-parade parade through the beach tract.

The garden as a gathering place.

The parade starts here!

And then, the veggies just started to grow! We’ve got squash, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, beets, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, stevia (for sweetening our lemonade and our lemon ice), nasturtiums and, pretty soon, sunflowers.
Our major food project—growing watermelon–is doing well in this cool climate.  But, our baby melon on the vine won’t be ready for our  August feast day.  But, it’s likely we’ll have watermelon for Halloween!

Hoping for watermelon!

If you ask us adults, the best thing about the kids’ garden is how it’s turned into a neighborhood park where our kids all play together making up games as they go along and producing plenty of rowdy–and healthy–outdoor fun together.

Ladder ball, anyone?

Along the way, each child is learning a lot about gardening.  They can see that it takes a good long time for that first yummy carrot to emerge (still not quite ready!).  The kids worried along with us that one greedy gopher might gobble up our whole summer’s worth of work as we all watched the gopher mounds appear.  Our raised beds and barrels are keeping our food safe so far.


We are beginning to plan for our feast on August 27.  We’ll keep you posted on our harvesting and our food preparation.  Look below to see how our garden grows!

Ava & Macy plant squash...

...and the squash arrives.

Sunflowers planted…

...and they are growing...

...and growing!

Cucumber is planted...

...welcome first cucumber!

Potatoes blooming with gopher slayer in background.

Sea Salt Success!

Our day began with the task of harvesting ocean water.  Considering the ocean is a mere 500 yards from our door step, one may think this would involve a simple walk to the pounding shoreline, but not for the Beckett Family.  We take our Sea Salt seriously, so our harvest started with a boat ride beyond the mouth of the Morro Bay Harbor where the “best ocean water” awaited us.

Captain Ava was at the helm while our First Mate, Josh dunked and hoisted several large containers full of the salty sea. 

When all was said and done, we had collected 4 containers holding roughly 3 to 4 gallons of water each, plus a few smaller containers.  Our little boat groaned under the weight of all the water.  We smacked our lips at the idea of having fresh sea salt today!

We brought home nearly 15 gallons of ocean water and prepared to filter it through sophisticated contraptions of coffee filters set in strawberry baskets which were duct taped into colanders suspended above a catchment bowl. 

Very high-tech!

Now we poured the once filtered water into pots on the stove and brought them to a rolling boil for 20 minutes.  The boiling temperature was intended to kill off any bacteria.  The filtering girls, Ava and Sydney, worked hard at their jobs for about an hours, slow filtering nearly 5 gallons of water.  Josh and I set up boiling pots on every burner we had, which included the four on our stove, the burner on our gas grill, and the camp stove to bring the count to seven active burners!  After the rolling boil, the girls filtered the water a second time for good measure.

  Now for the final results!  Having filtered, boiled and filtered again, this water was ready to be baked in Pyrex dishes for a few hours to evaporate the water, leaving fantastic sea salt.  Sunset suggested baking as a more efficient and cleaner way to make sea salt.  We followed their recipe right up to this point, when the oven suddenly shut down, screen blank, oven dark, no power, no heat, zero, zilch, nada.  Auugghh!  We had gallons of water to evaporate!  What now?!  We tried placing the Pyrex dish on the grill and closing the lid to create a pseudo oven.  After a few minutes of heating, we lifted the lid to discover our Pyrex dish and twice filtered ocean water had exploded, leaving shards of blackened glass all over the grill.

So, we defaulted to the less efficient, and messier approach to making sea salt; boiling.  Enter Abby Diodati to help stir and filter! 

Sunset claimed that 3 cup batches of twice filtered ocean water resulted in 1 tablespoon to 1/2 cup of sea salt.  We found that ours was even more productive, making 1 to 2 Tablespoons of salt for every cup of water evaporated.  The results were amazingly white, flakey pans of salt that we scraped off into a bowl.

We found that careful watching of the evaporation process was the key to creating light flakey salt.  If the pan evaporated without a careful eye and a quick spatula to lift the salt crystals off the bottom, the heat of the pan would reduce the crystals to a dusty, fine salt.  But, if the timing was perfect, we found ourselves with a pan full of light, crumbly, medium sized salt crystals of pure white color.

With just seven gallons of water, we completed our day with over three cups of beautiful sea salt.  What a productive day we had! Now, with a kitchen spattered in sea salt and every pan we owned splayed out all over the yard, it was time to call it quits.  If only we could figure out what to do with the other 9 gallons of ocean water…

Snail…the forever battle

Morro Bay is full of snails. And the web is full of ways to deal with snails, most of which didn’t sit right with me. So, in true Team Mad Science style, I decided to do a little low-tech experiment:

Step 1 : Get a snail from the garden.
Step 2: Put him on my front porch (concrete).
Step 3: Surround him with various substances and observe.

Okay, so not exactly a superconducting super-collider, but it should tell me certain “things” work as a snail barrier. And it definitely won’t create any mini black holes.

On the other hand, it might get me locked up.  A passer-by sees me lying on my front porch at the wee hours of the night, a 45 degree chill, LED headlamp shinning from my forehead. Would you call the cops?




Here’s the results for the few substances I have tried to date:

Lava Rock: does this guy look deterred? I don’t think so. FAILED.

Human Hair: Well, after painstakingly watching one little guy very daintily crawl over my fresh-cut hair (it was getting long anyway), I’m going to call it mostly worthless – it might have slowed him down a little. FAILED.

Salt: Alright, any school kid knows this one is going to work. And, boy, did it. My circle of salt soon had a slime pentagram symbol in it from the little bugger going back and forth. But, you can’t use it in you garden…so I guess this is really just my control test.

Pine Needles: Like hair, the snail seemed not to “like” pine needles, but it didn’t stop him. He made it over…just a little slower. FAILED.

Coffee Grounds: As a deterrent, grounds did nada. However, I can’t really comment on the long-term effects. An article in Nature (and if you don’t know Nature, it’s the real-deal science publication) suggests caffeine will kill snails in a couple of days. Well, of course it will…can you imagine a snail on a caffeine buzz. But as a barrier — FAILED

Coffee Liquid: I poured a little coffee on the ground in front of one of my snails. I really didn’t think it would do anything…but I gave it a try since brewed coffee has a lot of caffeine. But it didn’t do anything. FAILED.

Egg Shells:  Snail didn’t even slow down.  FAILED.

Copper Strip: Still need an official test for this. But we did try this last year and did not see any difference.

The results are pretty dismal. Except for salt, which was a no-brainer and not really a viable solution, not a single substance worked as a barrier.  Oh well, back to Sluggo (if that even works).


UPDATE: I did a follow-up test for the coffee grounds.  In this test, I put 3 snails (each) in two 5 gallon buckets (6 in all).  Both pails had lettuce for them to eat.  One bucket also had coffee grounds sprinkled at the base.   After several days of pulling them off the sides and placing them at the bottom of the bucket (to make sure they crossed the grounds several times), none of the snails had died.  So, coffee grounds as snail killer — FAILED.