My wife decided to make a dahlia farm over the remains of the CZU fire – she’s crazy, but in a good way

My wife, Karla DeLong, had always wished our property on the top of Ben Lomond Mountain would get more sun.

“I just wanted a small more.” She smiles now, her infectious smile widens. “But what we ended up with, well…”

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

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

I am a retired firefighter and shortly before midnight on August 20, 2020 I managed to get through the roadblocks and catch up at our property.

I just had to know.

The whole neighborhood was on fire and we ended up losing seven of the thirteen houses, more than half. But miraculously, our house hadn’t burned down.

I did do a very small amount of firefighting when I got there, spraying water on a burning tree that probably would have spread to the house. But it was mostly luck that saved it.

The fire at one point came within 5 feet of our house. It could have easily gone the rest of the way.

The DeLongs building 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 end of our nearly 10-acre property did not. Several hundred large spruce trees spread over 2 hectares eventually died and had to be cut down.

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

Except, she knew precisely what to do with it.

My crazy-cool wife’s big idea

When we first got home after the fire, she went a bit overboard with houseplants. She even hung them on the windows, because looking out, everything was so black and burnt. She wanted the color back, the green. She needed some beauty.

Karla works at Mountain Feed and Farm Supply in Ben Lomond, where she teaches all things beekeeping and gardening. Growing food has always been her specialty, and dahlias — in addition to being impossibly beautiful and geometrically enchanting — 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 after her family lost acres of land to the CZU fire two years ago.

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

(via Liz Celeste)

Let me explain. When cross-pollination produces a new gene expression, either deliberately by hand pollination or just randomly through the bees, a new and exciting color combination/pattern/shape will emerge. The grower will then name and cherish this new variety. The names can be just as amazing as the flowers themselves.

This one is called “Koko Puff”.

The dahlia “Koko Puff”.

(via Liz Celeste)

When all the burnt trees were gone and our property suddenly got huge amounts of sun, Karla told me we were going to make a dahlia farm.

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

It honestly didn’t surprise me at all. My wife never does anything halfway. So it was with beekeeping.

When we bought our property in 2007, she showed an interest in beekeeping. Three years later, she was president of the Santa Cruz Beekeepers Guild.

“Yeah, when I’m on something, I tend to go all in,” she admits honestly.

Santa Cruz has the perfect climate for dahlias

This is how Beeline Blooms was born in January. We are a dahlia flower farm with the sole purpose of bringing color and joy back to our devastated community.

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

As soon as I saw a table go into the shower I knew this was serious.

We started clearing the place for the flowers – more than one-eighth of an acre of land. We added a truckload of organic compost and planted a cover crop of grains and legumes that would grow and then be tilled back into the ground. We made rows with a custom tractor attachment I made from scrap and wood. Friends came to help set up a fence and eventually design and build a drip irrigation system.

As on her foray into beekeeping, Karla sought out local experts as mentors.

Her words: “Everyone at the Monterey Bay Dahlia Society was so wonderful, so kind and helpful. It turns out that Santa Cruz has the perfect climate to grow dahlias, and some of the most renowned growers even live here.”

So are Kristine Albrecht, Joe Ghio, and Kevin Larkin, all of whom have hybridized many popular dahlia varieties.

The dahlia farm is a DeLong family business, which includes daughters Adaira and Shaelyn.

The dahlia farm is a DeLong family business, which includes daughters Adaira and Shaelyn.

(via Liz Celeste)

Other friends and neighbors came to help, dug the holes, took the now sprouted tubers from pots and put them in the ground.

Here, in fact, was the healing in action: people went into the dirt, got dirty, imagined a burnt spot, and did the work to grow something beautiful.

Karla mapped the flower locations in rows, by color, so that it resembles a rainbow from above.

The DeLong dahlia nursery.

The DeLong dahlia nursery.

(via Liz Celeste)

How crazy-cool is that?

And of course the bees love it too.

We lost about 10 hives to the fire, about half our total. We’ve since added a few more, and they all dig as many flowers as the humans.

Beeline blooms, my crazy (but well crazy) wife’s vision, is open on select Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. The first day is next Saturday, August 27.

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

(via Liz Celeste)

The entry fee is a sliding scale donation ($20 suggested), and survivors of the CZU fire enter for free. All proceeds from the first season will be donated to rebuild the Little Red Alba School House, a historic building on upper Alba Road that was lost to the fire. It had been our community center, and seeing it rebuilt will do a lot to heal our community.

And that’s what this whole project is about: making something fun for our community.

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

Mission accomplished, I’d say.

Come by on Saturday and judge for yourself.

Daniel DeLong, his wife, Karla, and their daughters, Adaira and Shaelyn, share their family farm with two dogs, three cats and an ever-changing number of chickens. In addition to helping his wife realize her visions, he enjoys tinkering with machines, playing guitar and writing. He has lived in the San Lorenzo Valley for over 30 years.

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