Thursday, June 22, 2017

Progression of a Project

I love it when a plan comes together. I love it more when I don't know what I'm doing but fake it and somehow it works out, which is usually the case. The faking-it part, that is. Fortunately for me, plants are so forgiving that it works out most of the time. This blog post is thus the progression of a medium-sized project as it nears completion, the jury is still out whether or not it is successful. A little more work to go, but I hope the end results match the image in my mind. Here we go:

This is the property and home when we bought it in late 2015. The labyrinth is, of course, gone, replaced with a full garden. The edge of the labyrinth, closest to the camera, is the area we'll be looking at.

Here is the labyrinth last April after the rocks were removed, the sand pushed back to allow for the removal of the landscape fabric underneath, and plants beginning to be placed.

This is about August last summer. The labyrinth is the garden area seen in the upper left, the additional space was created when we moved the rocks and began planting meadow plants. The edge of this area still screamed "circle" to me and I wanted to mix it up.

Here it is from the south looking north. The whole garden just sort of ends in field grass, not very interesting.

That's when I had the idea to make it a "step down" and to plant it with fescue and other drought-tolerant scrubby plants as a transition to the surrounding landscape. This photo is from early spring this year with basically nothing emerging. There are many grasses, asters and herbaceous perennials in there. And Hobbes, of course.

My "step down" got a little deeper and wider thanks to Facilities Manager. He mounded the soil on the south side of the swale. I had not thought about putting the soil there, I actually didn't think about it much but he started and the mounds affectionately became the Himalayas. That's assistant FM Sharon, who always seems to be doing some heavy work for us.

OK, I like the change in profile to the land. I just went with it and decided I would create it as I went.

Facilities Manager added chunky gravel to the base of the pit to help keep mud down. He eventually, with the help of friends, added smaller crushed gravel to complete the look.

I still wasn't sure what I would do with the Himalayas. The kitties had their own ideas.

Because the soil used to make the mounds was basically turned-over field grass and the surrounding soil, we needed to solarize or sterilize the soil to kill weed seeds and the grass. We did this by covering the mounds in plastic. I learned after we did this that clear plastic works better as it acts as a greenhouse, trapping sunlight and really heating things up. D'OH! Live and learn. We are really just winging it, after all.

As seen looking towards the west. The soil on the right is the edge of what was the labyrinth. After I took these photos, I cut openings in the plastic and planted a few Arctostaphylos species to get them off to a good start, as well as a few blue fescue grasses. We waited a couple of months until I couldn't stand it any longer and I recently removed the plastic. I probably should have waited a few more months, but . . . I was impatient.

Here it is with the plastic removed and the plants in place. I decided to soften the edges by raking soil down to the gravel so it forms a soft edge. The grassy area between the two mountains of soil will eventually be graded so it slopes down and becomes level with the gravel to make for easy access and a more welcoming feel.

The edges of the labyrinth garden have many low-growing cascading plants that will eventually cover the edges, such as trailing rosemary, Zauschneria or California fuchsia, sedums and others. If we had more resources, I would edge the labyrinth side of the gravel walk in rock to make for a kind of low retaining wall. Maybe another day. I also wish to add flag stones in a meandering pattern to create a very rough and informal walkway, just for fun. I hope to plant more fescue in the gravel, to make it more naturalistic.

As seen from behind, chickens following me. 

This path through the center of the labyrinth will continue down to the vegetable garden someday. For now it ends here and, to the left, there's a step down to the new gravelly area. That design will evolve into a more comfortable solution for getting down there. I'm open to ideas!

Here is one of the berms (and chickens) looking south. In time, as everything fills in, the horizon lines will change.

The view just to the right of the previous photo showing both berms.

Just for fun, here's a shot of the labyrinth as it looks today, same shot as the first photo.

This whole garden, while I do have gardening experience, is really a big experiment. There are no rules, we're making it up as we go and having fun doing it. This latest project, while not complete, will I believe be unusual and interesting when it fills in. If it doesn't work, the worst thing that can happen is that we fill it back in (aaack . . . not really [FM says who said what now?]) and plant grass seed. As it is, however, I think it will connect with the outlying hills and scrubby country foliage and make for a more interesting horizon overall. Are we crazy? A little, but that keeps it fun.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and commenting and happy gardening one and all!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Vegetable Garden

What an adventure we've been on. Just this past week we nearly completed the vegetable garden and orchard planting phase of Chickadee Gardens. It's amazing to me to think that just a year and a half ago, we lived in Portland on a 50 x 100 foot lot. Now we are in Saint Helens, some 30 miles north of Portland on 2+ acres, growing food. Here's a peek at how things are shaping up:

With a coat of chalkboard paint, we made the inside of the garden shed door a functioning sign board. It's true, we have all these veggies and fruits listed. While they may not be ready yet, they are technically growing.

Let's have a little before-and after-fun. This is what the vegetable garden looked like before Facilities Manager cleared and plowed the land. This photo was taken last summer.

Here is the vegetable garden as it looked last week. The top half of this part of the garden is orchard and the bottom half is primarily vegetables. The row covers are currently in place to protect cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower from pests (we've had a little problem with the dreaded cabbage moths). The rows above it are planted with corn, beans, cucumbers, beets and carrots.

This photo is from fall 2015.

Exact same spot last summer after FM started tackling blackberries and dead trees.

Here is how it looks today. No paths yet, but it's on its way. One day last weekend we planted the following in this area (and to the left, out of sight of this photo): 11 gooseberries, 10 asparagus, 9 strawberries, 8 blueberries, 7 raspberries, 6 chives, and a couple of artichokes and rhubarbs. And no, I did not plan it to sound like a Christmas carol. I'm just weird that way.

FM here: We have three hens, two cats and one facilities manager! Very strange!

Again, the scene last summer after a few weeks of blackberry clearing by FM.

Same area last week. We moved three of the old raised beds that temporarily held our bare-root fruit trees and lettuce all last winter to this area for permanent strawberry, lettuce and herb boxes.

Oh....I remember when it looked like this when we bought the property. We were so excited that we completely overlooked being overwhelmed.

This is the general view as it looks today. The gravel path marks the division between the orchard, to the left, and the veggie garden, to the right. It will eventually continue on, ending at the property line/fence just visible beyond. The fence on the right encloses the veggie garden (from prying destructo-chicken feet); it will be moved over a few feet in the fall to make the path a few feet wider.

Here's the direct-sown corn, beans and whatnot with a top row of giant sunflowers. The design and look of this area will change in time, of course, as we continue to improve and work the soil with compost and other amendments recommended by Logan Labs where I had the soil tested. It will probably become more level as we work it every year, but for now we wanted to get the garden started, so it is a bit on the raw and lumpy side.

The small bed is strawberries, the larger one in back is for greens and lettuces, the one on the right is for herbs such as fennel, parsley, basil, tarragon and chives (planted at the base of the bed so they don't take over). FM sowed red clover seed as a cover crop to the remainder of this half of the veggie garden as it's not been completely planted this year. That's what you see growing in green patches all around. The rows of corn and the like are just outside of this shot to the left.

How shall we provide water to the far corners of the property, you ask? I'm glad to tell you that FM rented a trencher last week in preparation for irrigation pipes. In this shot, the line from the house has been dug past the chicken coop. FM says no he was not drinking during this process. He says always blame the machinery.

From there he turned it south, halfway between the garden with two faucets in this area. There is a third at the top of this photo for the eventual hoop house (that's another phase, another day). FM says it will mean not having to drag two or three hoses around the property, an activity that wears out the arms and can damage innocent plant life in the path of dragged hosiery.

In addition to the irrigation ditches, FM dug this channel along the north side of the house to aid in water-runoff management in the winter time. That retaining wall prevents water in the berm garden (to the right) from draining and it all ponds in that flat grassy area and becomes a boggy, muddy mess. By directing the water out via a channel outlet and a lot of gravel, we are sure this area will be drier in the winter months. Plus, FM continues to refine his shoveling skills. Whew!

FM decided to keep the trunks of two maple trees he cut down. He made lovely simple benches for us to enjoy the view from the top of the orchard looking south over the food garden. Yes, the slab on the right bench is the top of the left bench. Both benches are comfortable, but they need to be finished with a varnish or sealant before -- dare I say it? -- before the rains return this Fall.

I leave you with a parting shot of Doug, or resident native Douglas squirrel (also know as a "pine squirrel"). There are dozens of other large Eastern gray and fox squirrels around, those somewhat annoying imports that have squeezed out our native critters. So it was particularly delightful to find these much smaller and surprisingly tame native squirrels suddenly show up the other day. So tame, in fact, Doug crawled up onto my boot and looked me in the eye. No kidding. We also have a native chipmunk who hangs around from time to time, it's a thrill to live among all of this wildlife.

FM, who is an English major, says the collective pronoun for a number or group of squirrels is a "dray" or a "scurry" of squirrels. Of the two words, we prefer scurry. So now Doug has a last name. Douglas Scurry. That is Mr. Scurry to you!

As we continue to work on the Final Frontier of our garden, (otherwise known as the food garden), it often occurs to me how lucky we are. We have this wonderful land, plants, chickens, wildlife, cats and each other. Really, what more do we need? It's the adventure of a lifetime....I have to pinch myself sometimes so I'm sure we're actually doing it. I look forward to watching the apple trees grow and gathering blueberries from the field. I enjoy watching plants take over, change, even die as they live out their life cycle. It's a wonderful life and I'm glad to share it with you all.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Thank you so much for reading and commenting and until next time, happy gardening!