Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sneaking Up On Springtime

These sunny days have been a luxury.

Though the frost is still pretty hard in the mornings with the clear skies, the ground has been dry enough to work a little and we've taken good advantage in order to make some early headway in the garden.

Peas and spinach are in already. The winter plantings are all ready to eat. One potentially exciting development is our new cold frame we'll use to do our own starts this year. There's also a brand new potato bed, plans for a much improved hop trellis, a new garlic bed, greatly expanded strawberry plantings, and six new blueberry far. Our new plums appear to be very pleased with themselves. The apple trees took a break from bearing last year and look unbelievably healthy now...ready to go. I think we are too.

This year we're trying to focus on better yield, mostly by doing differently rather than doing more. A lot of that will fall to timing our efforts better. I'm learning that while building a garden is inevitably hard work, making a garden work for you is mostly a matter of paying attention.

Our composting efforts last year were incredibly successful. We probably harvested 4-5 cubic yards of fantastic compost in all. During the winter, the piles slow down and we maybe get one yield in four months. During summer, with a good turning schedule, it's more like two months and we can get the piles hot enough to break almost anything down. If we keep this up, I think the days of hauling in soil "products" are behind us now.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How Many Green Tomatoes Does a Man Need?

Alas! Poor Uncle Leo always gets the short end of my jokes, but this year I do indeed feel likely to be buried in green tomatoes unless we're graced by a bit more sun before the cold comes.

I've been eking out a pot of tomato sauce here and there, but mostly nowhere, snitching instead and hoping for enough of an Indian Summer surge to enable some canning in earnest. We'll see.

Squash and peppers limp along similarly this year. I expect maybe a bushel or two of winter squash. Even the zucchini have been reserved this year...I'm almost keeping up with them.

Beans are another story...after a very slow start and several re-plantings early on, they're yielding nicely...all of my varieties. And, probably owing to the cool wet weather, the scarlet runners have been especially tender. My 20 year old son, in an inexplicable burst of homesteader-like energy, canned up 13 quarts of them one day. He did a fine job of things and even cleaned up after himself. I'm still scratching my head and wondering if I should perhaps have a doctor look at him.

Fall is always a sweet sort of panic for me. All things come ripe and demand attention mostly by threatening horrible waste if ignored. The winter rains loom too, reminding me of all the chores left to do. Almost as if summoned, 'work work' also seems to heat up come September or so. I buckle down, pull late nights, cram tasks into every nook of the day, meanwhile stealing as much of the waning summer fun as I can hiking or kayaking, and try not to worry too much or just go plain crazy. It never works, and then it sort of does, and then the rain comes and I am happy for what I managed to finish and cross with myself for what I did not. A better settling of scores is always warranted I think looking back over years of the same restlessness.

Green tomatoes this year are bound to break me. No matter how many old boxes I unearth in my garage, I cannot image there are enough empty Ball jars in my possession to hold the probably hundreds of pounds of wannabe Roma's, Early Girl's, Purple Cherokee's, etc. bearing down upon me. I'll do what I can, but am wondering if maybe it's possible to somehow make biodiesel, or perhaps settle the national debt with the remainder, or somehow get the IRS to accept them in lieu of taxes next year.

I went to a wedding last weekend, an Oregon wedding (in the rain), for a couple of true farm geek friends. They were tying the knot and simultaneously celebrating their acquisition of a lovely patch of land with an old farmhouse on it and a barn or two where they will make their life together. It was a good wedding, the best I can remember, and for reasons not much to do with the extravagance of the preparations. Bride and groom were simply dressed: baggy pants and a new pair of workshoes for the groom and a pretty cotton wrap for the bride. They performed their own ceremony on the porch of the farmhouse and offered a blessing to each other, to the land, and to the guests in attendance all of whom stood and watched adoringly in the slow Oregon rain. A small tribe of children composed and sang a song to seal the deal. I hope they're happy for a long time to come. I suspect they will be. I know they made a lot of other people happy that day at least and things like that tend to come around again. I thought about giving them green tomatoes as a wedding present, but in the end could figure no sober way of convincing myself of the notion and so offered up a new beehive for their place instead.

I'll check back with them later and at least give them an opportunity to trade the hive out for tomatoes...just in case.

My own bees, happily, came through with a bounty this year. After the cold start to the summer, this was an unexpected pleasure. I took about 70 lbs from the two hives and left them more than enough to see the winter through.

Certainly, there must be at least one recipe out there consisting mainly of honey and green tomatoes.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Packing It In

Long time, no post. Fortunately, there's been a lot more gardening happening than least here.

My bee blog has been getting more attention and because it follows our efforts to create a new bee co-op, also explains the lack of focus here.

Anyway...this season is starting out strong. We have beans, peas, collards, kale, strawberries, squash, basil, tomatoes, onions, garlic, beets, cress, spinach, lovage, poatatoes, artichokes, and more all in and/or producing already.

We're packing something good into every nook and cranny, even building up (hop poles and bean tunnels) and out (into my neighbor's yard) at every opportunity. It's going to be a good year by all signs.

I'm super grateful this season to enjoy some help from a few U of O students who have taken an interest in the garden. They rock! Some are learning about bees, others about gardens, etc. It's really wonderful.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fork In the Road

I've been decidedly torn about one of the tree species that inhabits the lot where my garden exists. When I arrived, there were several European White Poplar trees already here, some quite large. I took one (which was growing into my house and fence) almost immediately. No regrets there. The other two have given me years of pause.

I have no love for these particular trees. European White Poplars (Populus Alba) propagate roots aggressively and have invaded nearly every garden bed I've tried to create, in some cases so badly that beds had to be abandoned or completely dug out. Each spring they also spend about three weeks dropping copious amounts of white, fluffy seed everywhere.

On the plus side, they are trees. That's a basic bonus in my book. They also have a nice sound to them in the wind, as many cottonwoods and poplars do. In summer time the breeze rattles the leaves nicely and if I can forget about their encroachment on my gardens for a moment, it's lovely to hear them. The trees also provide good shade for my house and now after considerable pruning on one of them even look pretty good.

I'm at a crossroads with the smaller of the two remaining trees, however, which is planted in the narrow strip between sidewalk and street on the north side of my garden. It's sending shoots again, seemingly everywhere and nearly wiped out a bed of raspberries last year. It's also buckling the sidewalk, which doesn't irk me so much but will at some point attract the attention of the City maintenance folks who will require the tree to be removed.

Truth be told, the real driver for my discontent for this particular tree is that I'd very much like to put a couple of plum trees in that spot to broaden the variety of fruit the lot produces.

So, my quandry involves the decision to replace one tree with another. It's a weighty choice in my book and I've considered this situation now for more than a year. I remember once taking out a neglected and fairly unattractive laurel hedge, not thinking much about it, only a few days later finding myself in a cafe looking at a lovely set of venerable laurel shrubs that had been carefully and artfully shaped into small trees. I was immediately struck by the contrast between how long it took the laurels to grow and how quickly I had been able to remove them. My own lack of vision and creativity also confronted me inescapably in that encounter.

I don't think my poplar has anything like the aesthetic potential the laurel hedge might have. It's a badly shaped tree despite the fact that I've already done all that I can to improve its shape. Nonetheless, this poplar does have standing. It's probably almost as old as I am. The burden of proof seems to me to be mine.

Rationally, gardeners like me replace one species with another all the time. We make choices based on productivity, taste, aesthetics, etc. on a regular basis...acting as judge, jury, executioner, and midwife simultaneously. But, the price of that arrogance is easily seen all around us in our depleted soils, wasted streams, and ravaged forests. Deciding quickly and only in consideration of utility predictably yields short term results and weakens the bigger communities which both consist of and support the things we decide are useful.

Trees may or may not make choices in the way we understand choice, but they do behave in varying ways and, as is the case of my poplar (an introduced species), often interact aggressively with their surroundings (the other introduced species of my garden).

This story's clearly not over, but I'm out of time for now.

Water Works!

I'm most gratified to report that my water solution for the lot seems to be working well in this first wet season. Everything drains nicely, but not off the lot itself, which means I'm steadily hydrating the soil beneath my garden. Fantastic!

The concrete-sided raised beds also seem to be draining as needed, even given my design choice not to equip them with weep holes on the sides.

Of course, the acid test for all of this will come later this spring as planting begins and I need to get into the soil. But, for now, I get a provisional pass!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Gratitude for a Good Harvest

It's a blue-sky fall morning and from my vantage point where I can see the lovely garden space below, I'm awash with gratitude for the unbelievable experience this first year of the new garden has provided. Some words of thanks are in order, but will surely be insufficient to the task!

Most of all I've enjoyed the opportunity to do so much of this with Kristin. She's an odd one, my kind of girl, the type that gets excited about a pickup load of manure, the whorl pattern of an echinacea flower head, or saving seeds. I hope we enjoy many future seasons of gardening and canning and that we have the opportunity to create many more gardens together.

Many neighbors and friends have been super. Some mostly remind me that there's stuff that needs eating. That's fine! Others pick up shovels and rakes and whatnot and dig in. Stormi has been a great friend to the garden in that regard. Lynda (aka "Queen Basilica") got some good digs in too.

I'm also fortunate to know a couple of what I'd call 'hard hitters' in the making-gardens-happen world. My young friend Andy has energy and muscles and a work ethic that I can only vaguely remember. He's awesome! Andy moved probably as much earth and rock as I did this year. Go, Andy! I hope you have a lifetime of pleasure growing things! Loren (also endowed with admirable git-r-done qualities) put a lot of path in with me and did a ton of work on the concrete beds. I am always amazed at how much he can accomplish in a short time. Loren has a great knack for making beautiful things from whatever's at hand.

In May, a whole tribe of workshop participants converged and really got the growing side moving with a weekend of planting. I was away at the time in a very hot and dismal part of the world, so returning to their verdant handiwork in mid-June was almost miraculous. I have not even met most of them in person, but I owe them many thanks.

Now, I also and perhaps most importantly need to thank my bees, snakes, ladybugs, nematodes, wasps, birds, various mystery soil denizens, unbelievably indolent house cats, plants, sun, rain, and wind for doing all the hard work. This last shout-out may strike some people as frivolous, but a single honeybee, you should know, produces only about one-eighth of a teaspoon of honey in its entire lifetime. I am certain, on that account, that I will never show as much dedication myself to such a beautiful enterprise, and so I am grateful for theirs.

Happy Fall!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Where there's beer...

Beer is such a powerful attractor that even the mere possibility of even a draught in the distant future draws people.

I learned this earlier in the week as a couple of college guys ambled down the alley, stopped at the garden, and made no attempt to hide their interest in my hops. Even before they accosted me as I grazed on a row of spinach, I knew where this was going.

Their timing was impeccable. Just that afternoon I'd been fretting about how to harvest all of the various things that needed bringing in: tomatoes, basil, cukes, hops, pears, etc. Rain was coming and time was short.

In no time flat the two fellows had morphed into four and all five of us were sitting on my back deck around a three foot high heap of Willamette hop vines, shucking the perfectly ripe blossoms into grocery bags. And, bless their party-loving hearts, they were kind enough to bring along some very nice beer to help the work go...well, if not more quickly, at least more smoothly. My harvest worries soon faded entirely.

In about two hours we'd filled four grocery bags brimming with green hops. Once dried the harvest came to about two pounds in all. They took half and I've got the other. Mine are now vacuum sealed and awaiting a brewing adventure planned for mid-month.

Here's to the amazing phenomenon of the ad hoc community garden!