My husband decided to build a dahlia farm on the remains of the CZU fire – he’s crazy, but in a good way

My wife, Karla DeLong, always wished our property on the upper flank of Ben Lomond would get more sun.

“I just wanted to little more”. He’s laughing now, his infectious smile widening. “But what we ended up with, well…”

It’s been two years since Karla, our two daughters and I evacuated our home at the top of Alba Road in Ben Lomond during a fire at the CZU Lightning Complex. Like thousands of other evacuees, we watched online as little red dots appeared on a map of our neighborhood, indicating heat picked up by a satellite.

It was surreal. We were sure that our house was gone.

I am a retired firefighter and was able to get to our property just before midnight on August 20, 2020.

I just had to know.

The whole neighborhood burned and in the end we lost seven of the 13 houses, more than half. But strangely enough, our house did not burn.

When I got there, I did very little firefighting, spraying water on the burning wood that would most likely spread to the house. But it was mostly luck that saved him.

The fire came to our house at a distance of 5 meters. He could easily walk the rest of the way.

The DeLongs’ property in Ben Lomond burned down two years ago this week.

(via Liz Celeste)

But while the house survived, the forest that covered the entire western portion of our approximately 10 acres did not. Several hundred large fir trees spread over 2 hectares were destroyed and had to be cut down.

Suddenly my wife had more sun than she knew what to do with.

Besides, he knew exactly what to do with it.

My crazy wife’s great idea

When he first came home after the fire, he went a little overboard with his houseplants. He even hung them from the windows, because everything was so black and burnt when he looked out. He wanted to return the color, green. He needed beauty.

Carla works at Mountain Feed and Farm Supply in Ben Lomond, where she is a teacher of all things beekeeping and horticulture. Growing food has always been her specialty, and dahlias—in addition to being impossibly beautiful and geometrically fascinating—are actually edible.

They grow from small tubers like potatoes. The amazing variety of flowers they produce is the result of selective breeding.

Karla DeLong decided to start a dahlia farm two years ago after her family lost acres of property in a CZU fire.

Karla DeLong decided to start a dahlia farm after her family lost acres of property in a CZU fire two years ago.

(via Liz Celeste)

Let me explain. When cross-pollination causes a new gene expression to occur, either purposefully without hand-pollination, or randomly through bees, a new and interesting color combination/pattern/shape will emerge. The breeder will then name and breed this new variety. Names can be as awesome as the flowers themselves.

It is called “Coco Puff”.

The

“Coco Puff” dahlia.

(via Liz Celeste)

After all the burned trees were gone and our property suddenly started getting lots of sunlight, Carla told me we were going to start a dahlia farm.

Don’t just grow a few flowers, but build a real farm.

To be honest, it didn’t surprise me at all. My husband never does anything halfway. It was the same in beekeeping.

When he bought our property in 2007, he expressed an interest in beekeeping. Three years later, he became president of the Santa Cruz Beekeepers Guild.

“Yeah, when I’m into something, I tend to be into everything,” he freely admits.

Santa Cruz has the perfect climate for dahlias

Thus, Beeline Blooms was born in January. We are a dahlia flower farm with the sole purpose of bringing color and joy to our shattered community.

Karla started the project by turning one of our bathrooms into a mini indoor grow room where she germinated dahlia tubers she ordered online.

As soon as I saw a table going into the shower, I knew it was serious.

We began clearing the patch for flowers—more than an eighth of an acre. We added a truckload of organic compost and planted a cover crop of grains and legumes that will be finished and then planted back into the soil. We created rows with a custom tractor attachment I made out of scrap steel and wood. Friends came to help build the fence and eventually helped design and build a drip irrigation system.

As with beekeeping, Carla sought out local experts as mentors.

Her words: “Everyone at the Monterey Bay Dahlia Society has been wonderful, very kind and helpful. It turns out that Santa Cruz has the perfect climate for growing dahlias, and some of the most famous growers actually live here.

This includes Kristine Albrecht, Joe Ghio and Kevin Larkin, who have hybridized many popular dahlia varieties.

Dahlia Farm is a DeLong family effort, including daughters Adaira and Shaelyn.

Dahlia Farm is a DeLong family effort, including daughters Adaira and Shaelyn.

(via Liz Celeste)

Other friends and neighbors came to help, digging holes, removing the now sprouted tubers from the pots and placing them in the ground.

Here, in fact, healing was in action: people were getting into the dirt, getting dirty, reimagining the burning ground, and working to grow something beautiful.

Karla mapped out the locations of the flowers in rows, by color, so it looks like a rainbow from above.

DeLong dahlia farm.

DeLong dahlia farm.

(via Liz Celeste)

How crazy cool is that?

And of course bees love it too.

We lost about 10 hives to the fire, which is about half of the total. Since then we’ve added a few more and they dig the flowers as much as the people.

Beeline is blooming, my crazy (but good crazy) wife’s vision, is open 9 a.m. to noon on select Saturdays. The first day is this coming Saturday, August 27th.

Daniel DeLong supported his wife

Daniel DeLong supported his wife’s “crazy-cool” plan for a dahlia farm.

(via Liz Celeste)

Admission is a sliding scale donation ($20 suggested), and CZU fire survivors get in free. All proceeds from the first season will be donated to the rebuilding of the Little Red Cherry Schoolhouse, a historic building lost to fire at the top of Cherry Road. It was our neighborhood community center and seeing it rebuilt would do a lot to heal our community.

That’s what the whole project is about: to do something gratifying for our community.

Karla wanted to create a place where people could forget the trauma of the past few years and just be surrounded by beauty.

Mission accomplished, I’d say.

Come on Saturday and decide for yourself.

Daniel DeLong, his wife Carla and their daughters Adaira and Shaelyn share their lives family farm with two dogs, three cats and ever-changing chickens. In addition to helping his wife realize her vision, he enjoys working with cars, playing the guitar, and writing. He has lived in the San Lorenzo Valley for over 30 years.

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