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].