Thursday, September 24, 2009

Finally got the timing (sort of) right...

Planting at the right time has always been hit and miss for me. This year I think it more or less hit it...which of course means that next year is still up for grabs as every year is different.

The tell-tale indicator has been yield. We've enjoyed good sequencing of plantings and, consequently, of harvests as well. Two plantings of the same thing spaced two weeks apart and in the same basic spot in the garden is a great way to extend yields. We've enjoyed two crops of cucumbers, at least four of beans, three of greens, etc.

For some things, like basil, even just getting a single crop in early, thereby allowing time for recovery and re-harvest works well. With leafy stuff like that, how you harvest and maintain also makes a different. Pinching back buds encourages robustness. Ample water keeps basil from bolting too soon (annuals bolt when stressed....they feel the need to reproduce and keep their DNA from simply disappearing). So, this year we've had one huge basil harvest and are about to do we've grazed like crazed Italians in between!

The raised winter garden also went forward in a timely fashion. Leeks, peas, collards, kale, spinach, beets, and broccoli are all up now and looking strong enough to survive well into the fall months. With luck (even without cover) we'll enjoy these at least through November. The addition of cover next month (with luck) will take us through February.

And then, we'll be seeding for spring again.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Food In Small Places

I kept puzzling about how I might use this small strip about 4 feet wide and 12 feet long which lines my alleyway behind the main garden. The strip gets some sun, but not alot. The soil was poor and somewhat stoney too, but I settled on making it a potato bed and sheet-mulched it over before adding another foot or so of soil.

All important places require names, so I've dubbed this one the Dan Quayle (sp?) Spuds for Spelling Bed!

This photo was taken about a month ago. By now in mid May, these starts are alreadly about knee high. I'll have potatoes within another 3o days or so.

I'm finding an increasing number of amazing small places where I can tuck delicious things. For these spaces, it's not so much about a crop as it is about making treats for individual meals. It's also nice just to do drive-by munching on some of them while I'm out working.

There's almost no such thing as not enough space to garden.
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Monday, April 20, 2009

Pleasures of Propagation

Each year in my garden, I've been thrilled to experience a little more of the garden beginning to take care of itself. One of the ways that happens is when a desired species self-propagates. It's funny how it actually works that way.

Not to take a thing away from all of the wonderful people with calloused hands and permanent nail-dirt I've purchased starts from, but the bottom line is that healthy plants make their own offspring. It's a sure sign of a maturing garden when you start to keep your own seed from year to year and produce your own cuttings.

It's cheaper too!

Early this season I was delighted to discover a dozen or so Red Flowering Currant starts that had tunneled down from low branches and rooted. I bumped into the starts while on hands and knees taking out some pesky grass. With my face in the duff beneath the currants, I saw how the west-facing branches had been deployed by the currant stand as a sort of advance guard on a rooting mission to march towards the sun which they clearly crave. I snipped several of these and potted them up. They're all super healthy and now looking for new places to be marvelous. My original currants cost me a good $10-$12 each. I'm not in it for money, but that's $100 I can now spend on some other cool thing for my urban micro farm.

I also propagated a dozen or so hop rhizomes. Most of those found good homes already. I kept a few for another sunny spot I've got my eye on. I believe my original eight hop starts cost me $4 each. So, there's another $50 for the bee fund or the tree fund or ???

Many of my annual edibles already seed themselves from year to year. Arugula, for example, does very well. Potatoes are easy. Poppies are easy. The Siberian Miner's Lettuce in one of my shady native beds has been super.

Long term I'll steadily move towards all saved seed and heirlooms for my annuals and learn enough about cuttings and starts to keep my perennials rolling along. I've now learned to keep my eyes open in early spring for things that seem ready to multiply. Rather than fighting or forcing (with rooting hormone or some such thing), many species just do the work for you.

It's all part of working less and enjoying more.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Here's Wishing for Fields of Blue

One of the most amazing sights I've enjoyed in Oregon is that of a broad meadow full of native Camas (camassia quamash) in bloom. They're getting rarer, but there are still many places where you can see such a thing.

In town, however, that sight is exceedingly uncommon. The Masonic Cemetery above my house has a nice bloom each year. I'm sure there are other places in town where some Camas survives...but not enough!

My own super-slacker gardening style has allowed the native Camas in my own lot to re-present themselves. These deep-burrowing bulbs (lily family) do well in ground that's not much disturbed. They take years to flower if started from seed. So, in my front lot which is basically left to do it's own thing, the Camas has come back and it makes me happy each year to see it.

I'm very keen to 'roll out the welcome mat' in the back lot so that the Camas might come back there too. Last year, I planted 50 new bulbs in a new native 'meadow', but only a handful seemed to make it. I'm anxiously looking forward to springtime this year to see if those few survived and to see if any more might decide to join them.

Despite my focus on food-gardening, I don't intent to eat the Camas that grows...if it grows. (Camas was a staple for Native Americans in the Willamette Valley.) I'm just hoping to see it re-establish in a way that will help me understand what the valley looked like once upon a time.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


I love apples. I enjoyed a number of fantastic apple trees as a kid. Now I've got lots of them even in my tiny yard. I have a special fondness for the hard, tart ones: Granny Smiths, Braeburns, etc. I also have Mutsu's and a blush apple that I've forgotten the name of. Eight trees in all.

In this adventure, the apples were one of the first things to go in. I started them three seasons ago with the intent to create a fence made of shaped apple trees. It's working! I prune, bend, and tie them each winter just as the growing season is about to begin. By now, the trees which line the north (more productive) and west (less productive) borders of the lot, are nicely shaped and basically form the fence. Eventually, the actual fence of wood and wire will be cut away where necessary to allow the apples to take over.

Tying and training the trees is easy. I cut with sharp shears and use cotton cloth to do the tying. By the time the cotton rots away, the tree has grown into position and no longer requires restraint. I'm sure there's a science about it, but I just use my eye to try and achieve a balanced distribution of branches. It's a sort of very slow conversation.

The apples also form the core of my first attempt at creating a permaculture guild: apples, blueberries, artichokes, camas, and wild flowers. To be honest, my first guild seems to be only modestly successful. The site of the guild doesn't get enough sun, so the apples, berries, and the artichokes struggle. The flowers (shaded/partial sun) are super happy. I do believe that the guild is good, it's just that the siting of this first effort was poorly considered.

Apart from the guild effort, most of my sunnier sited apples are already productive. This year I had my first significant harvest, enough to make probably a dozen pies. Next year I expect a sizeable increase in yield as the trees mature.

Watering plenty helps produce juicier and bigger apples. I don't use any sprays ever. I add some manure at the base of the tree in the fall just before the rains come. This year, I'm mulching around their bases also to keep grass down.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sea Buckthorn

The sea-buckthorns (Hippophae L.) are deciduous shrubs in the genus Hippophae, family Elaeagnaceae. The name sea-buckthorn is hyphenated here to avoid confusion with the buckthorns (Rhamnus, family Rhamnaceae). It is also referred to as "sea buckthorn", seabuckthorn, sandthorn or seaberry[1].