Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Veggie Garden

From the start we wanted to devote some of the land at Chickadee Gardens to food production. We already have a name for our edible endeavors, Blue Jay Lane Farm. So when Facilities Manager cleared the designated land towards the end of last year and the beginning of this, I realized we were really going to make it happen. This year, we focused more on getting seeds in the ground than making it look pretty - this fall and into next year we plan to lay out the land more carefully and with permanence in mind. In any event, guess what? Seeds sprouted and lo and behold, the vegetable garden is producing food! Amazing how that works!

Our little plot at sunset.

First up, beans. We sowed pole and bush beans to see what works best. My friend Alison from the garden blog Bonnie Lassie gifted me some Fortex bean seeds and, wow, let me tell you they are amazing. Alison also was responsible for the gooseberries, rhubarb and some of the strawberries. Gardeners are such generous, cool people! Thanks again, Alison.

Fortex beans are climbers (pole beans) and very vigorous. They are super-producers. We planted a half a row of these and half bush beans, both are prolific but the climbers are so huge and tasty, and they save the back from bending over (a little).

This is a big bowl filled with big beans. This is about 10 minutes of picking, and we've been doing that every other day. Stringless, too - another bonus. Plus, they taste great even at a larger size, and they don't get funky tasting.

Can you believe it? This is not uncommon, they are all around that long.

What to do with all those beans? Did someone suggest I hone my pickling and preserving skills? We've already frozen a few batches, I also decided to try pickling them, as I once worked at a bar in Santa Cruz that served bloody Marys with pickled green beans instead of celery. They were very popular (and delicious!). As this is my first attempt at pickling, the jury is still out on whether the cocktail party is on or not.

My impromptu bean-holder, my camera case. These are the regular Cantarre bush beans that are equally prolific and delicious, also picked every other day. That basically means bean-picking daily. Just a pain to bend and pick the bush beans. Pat your local harvester/farmer on the back for doing the dirty work, man.

OK, moving on to the lettuces. This whole box is dedicated to (mostly) lettuce as well as a few fennel bulbs. The lettuce came on so wonderfully this year, but the super hot (did someone say 105 degrees?) weather made the spinach, arugula and mustard greens bolt. The butter lettuce, speckled trout and red deer tongue did not bolt, though - we are still enjoying those varieties. 

You've just GOT to have nasturtiums in a veggie garden! Their peppery taste adds a kick to your summertime dishes. Plus, they help shade the lettuces. I think next year I'll rethink the full-sun lettuce thing, in other words creating some shade mid-summer in the form of corn stocks or bean towers.

The only things we did not start from seed are the many peppers Facilities Manager seems to have collected and a few tomato plants. Here, some chocolate-named pepper is just starting to turn, indicating the beginning of ripeness.

FM's Thai Dragon hot peppers. He can have these all to himself. FM says it's gonna be hot tonight!

Here we have leeks, celery and cabbage. So here's a funny thing: I also grew celeriac (celery root) and, well, the seedlings got mixed up so I don't know which is which. They are technically two different plants and I suppose I'll just wing it and wait until they grow a little more. Note for next year: Don't do that.

Yes, the same thing happened with the leeks and onions. Two different kind of leeks, too. I think it's safe to say this is an onion.

And, yes, we did the same thing with cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Oy. We must have been tipsy when we planted the garden? Drunk with excitement, I guess.

Kalibos cabbage, I do know that!

 Such pretty, sculptural leaves. I never really thought about it but the veggie garden is very beautiful. The shapes, colors and textures are amazing!

 Umm . . . I'm guessing broccoli?

Woo hoo! I know this one. Purple of Sicily cauliflower! When they start doing something, I can figure it out but when they are all in leaf, it's pretty difficult. For me. Don't make fun.

Corn! Facilities Manager looooves his corn. We planted I think six varieties. They are: Dakota Ivory, Glass Gem, Top Hat, True Gold and Paraguayan Chipa. This will be an interesting experiment. Many have tassels and are producing tiny ears - we're thrilled. A couple of these varieties are best for flour - that is drying and grinding for polenta or corn meal. Some are great for popcorn, others for grilling and eating.

I kind of feel like a Hobbit in our corn rows.

A few other goodies in the ground that I harvested today - golden beets...mmmm..these are for me.

Japanese long cucumbers, very sweet and low seeds...a wonderful fresh cucumber. Peel 'em, slice 'em, put a little rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and salt - voila, salad is made. Throw a fresh ripe tomato in the mix and it's even better. We're going to have a lot of cucumbers.

Two different kinds of parsnips. A little early to be harvested, but I wanted to see how big they were.

Celeriac? Celery? I think celeriac. I'll eat it and let you know.

Today's harvest. Oh, those large, fat beans in the bowl are another one we sowed. My sister-in-law acquired special seeds from her aunt in Romania. They were simply labeled "magic beans"....they sure are. 

Gnarly ol' tomato.

No idea what kind these are, but they are sweet and oddly colored.

Besides vegetables, we have a few fruit trees producing - columnar apples from my garden friend Darcy of E Garden Go. These are Golden Sentinel.

The three columnar apple trees grace the entrance to the veggie patch.

This is the lone fruit of the dwarf fig tree, also from Darcy.

Oh, gosh, did I mention squash and pumpkins? We have Red Kuri, Sweet Dumpling, Winter Luxury Pie, Butternut and Musquee de Provence. Whew! If I get one of each I'll be thrilled. OK, two butternut squash. No, wait, three.

Mammoth graystripe sunflowers tower over the corn. These are easily 8' high and still growing. We've got to grow food for the birds, too, after all.

An unusual "edible" are the rose hips of Rosa pomifera. Their color is so rich, the plant itself so cool that it deserves a place in my garden even without a veggie garden. It is on the edge of the orchard.

The inside of my garden shed door is painted with chalkboard paint, so I had to put it to use. It's true, we really are growing everything on that list. OK, we harvested the garlic, the broccoli might be a dud and the spinach bolted, but they really are all in the ground and growing. It may take a few years to have a full harvest of everything in the orchard list, but they too are all in the ground and growing their little hearts out.

 It's just a miracle to me that these little wisps of green become this:

A full-fledged garden.

In this shot, perhaps you notice that one side of the gate has no fence. Not very effective, but that's ok. The gate was always there, we left it in place. We plan on creating a path through the gate all the way down the edge of the veggie garden and it will divide that from the berry patch and terminate at the other end of the property. The fence will be extended on the open side, right now the gate is more ornamental. The former owner had some fun little glass ornaments that she left in the garden, I added them to the gate to welcome all to the sweet spot.

The magic gate. Seeds are amazing things; I have a whole new appreciation for them. I feel so very lucky to be able to do this, and let me tell you the taste . . . well, there's nothing like freshly picked food that you grew. Nothing like harvesting your own carrots and beans, broccoli and spinach, blueberries and dill. Such simple things, so much joy.

Much ink has been spilled on the subject of vegetable gardening and there is an equal amount of old-fashioned advice that has been passed down through changing generations. They all have something valuable to contribute to the conversation about how to grow your own food. We don't have vast amounts of knowledge, but that's o.k. I have several books that guide us, as well as my Master Gardener training a few years ago, not to mention fantastic advice from friends in the know. We also have curiosity and the willingness to try.

 In the end it's really about finding a good site for your plants and giving them what they want. Nothing fancy here, that's for sure. Seeds in ground, water and sunshine. We happen to have good soil as I discovered when I had it tested, but it still needs a lot of work. No matter, for us it's about getting in there and doing it and having fun.The finessing comes as we learn and grow, and the best way I learn is from the plants themselves, from hands on experience. I guess my point is that if you want to do something in gardening, go for it. No need for permission or the "perfect situation" - you'll be waiting a long time. We are but a couple of humble, simple farmers excited to be growing anything. So, if you are in Saint Helens, stop by and we'll fill you up with veggies. Especially beans, that most magical of fruit. FM might even throw in a Thai Dragon just to surprise you!

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Thank you so much for reading and commenting! Happy gardening to one and all.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Mid-Summer at Chickadee Gardens

Peak flower season is upon us and, as I see the temperatures rising to record highs, I am reminded to observe what the garden has to offer. These flowers might not last long if our predicted 108 degree temperatures are realized this week, so it is time to enjoy.

At the edge of the labyrinth garden, a sea of warm yellows, oranges, shades of red and carmine freely flower. The hotter colors I planted at a distance while the more subtle colors tend to be closer to the house.

Shades of pink in Pennisetum 'Karly Rose' and purples in Verbena bonariensis closer to the house. One area of this part of the garden just below the yucca in this photo saw some plant death, so I reworked it and added gravel, compost and a few new plants. I'll watch progress closely. Also, an Arctostaphylos 'Saint Helena' at the base of the stairs has been one of my favorite plants in the garden. I bought it from Xera Plants last year simply because of its name (living in Saint Helens). It handled the winter from hell like a champ and continues to grow and look gorgeous. I bought a second one for another location.

Same area of the garden from several feet back. Santolina virens, Penstemon pinifolius, hebes, yuccas and others are all heat-loving, easy-care plants. Mostly. My goal here is a year-round garden with many different textures, mostly low-growing mounds. Two of the three Ceanothus 'Italian Skies' bounced back from this winter, but I had to replace one which is to the right of the Arctostaphylos 'Saint Helena'. It will take some time to catch up with the other two, seen here as the fuzzy green blobs at the base of the deck.

Crocosmia pottsii (think of Potsi or Potsy? from Happy Days - that's how I remember it) is a subtle shade of coral-orange. I bought this last year from work and the clump has grown nicely. I prefer it to the bright orange of the Crocosmia already here on the property, but there is so much of it that it would be daunting to replace with this. Maybe in time if this proves to be prolific.

A swallowtail butterfly on a Liatris.

Stipa barbata or silver feather grass. It was given to me at a plant swap and, oh my gosh, it's my favorite grass of all-time. Slow growing, but worth the wait.

A view of the berm garden. A difficult site with hot blazing sun, even though it's on the north side of the house. It's in a lot of shade in winter - combine that with poor clay soil against a retaining wall and that equals drainage issues. I've had a hard time getting this area to thrive and get it enough water this summer. I will continue to amend the soil with gravel and compost, but I will also continue to tweak my plant selection for this area. For now, the crocosmia, Artemeisa 'Powis Castle', NOID heather, Achillea 'Moonbeam' (and 'Terra Cotta') and liatris are all doing fine.

A shot of liatris with crocosmia in the background.

A whole field of crocosmia. This was scattered around all over the garden and I consolidated it here to create a meadow feel.

Last fall I planted some 50 Allium sphaerocephalon bulbs. First came the foliage, then finally a long stick with a little ball at the end. Last month they started doing this. Kind of like a watermelon.

They have all since turned entirely purple.

The bees LOVE them. I think Facilities Manager does, too. He bounces them around every time he walks by and makes a "do do do do" happy song and dance.

Their bouncing, dark silhouettes add rhythm to the garden.

We have sunflowers again this year. As with last year, they were not planted by humans.

A NOID Clematis given to me by my boss, Maurice. He knows I love the bell-shaped clems.

A cool scene in mostly shade with hot blazing sun behind it.

A view of the gravel garden, chickens included. Festuca rubra 'Patrick's Point' on the right (the blue grasses) have spread nicely as long as the chickens don't graze on them.

Helenium 'Mardi Gras' is another popular pollinator plant.

Aah, here you can see the purple pom-poms as a kind of punctuation on the landscape.

Leptospermum lanigerum 'Silver Form' (tea tree) in full bloom. The flowers are actually quite small but this year there was such a profusion of them that they really show up. An evergreen shrub from Xera Plants that I moved with me from the old garden. I have since added a few others.

In front, Coreopsis rosea, some purchased some given to me by garden friends. It forms a nice sort of hedge along this area that gets a bit more water than other parts of the garden, even though it's on a slope. These are less drought-tolerant than other species of Coreopsis, thus the placement here. I have C. 'Moonbeam' in drier parts of the garden and they are thriving.

A friend of mine described this area of Carex comans 'Frosty Curls' as my sand dunes. It kind of does resemble that look, now that I think about it. These were seedlings given to me last year by two friends with an abundance of them (thank you, Colleen and Evan!) and now they have grown up and are making more seedlings to fill in the gaps. Miscanthus sinensis 'Cabaret' are the taller grasses in back.

Eriogonum compositum (Form 2) purchased from work last year. This tough native buckwheat is a low-growing shrub to only a few inches high. Give it great drainage and sunshine and it becomes a weed-suppressing mat of silver foliage with these bonus bee-friendly flowers.

Ratibida 'Red Midget' or prairie coneflower (or Mexican hat plant). Another tough full-sun flower for the pollinators.

The fading blooms of Achillea 'Terra Cotta', my very favorite of the achilleas.

A parting shot of the "dry creek bed" surrounded by dry land easy care plants. Many of these have thrived and multiplied, a few have perished and others are going to be moved as I fine-tune the rhythms, colors and textures of the garden. I want it to read as a whole painting all at once, taking you from one area to another rather than having individual gardens with an assaulting amount of varying plants. In other words, again struggling with the dichotomy of plant collector and wanting a landscape that connects with the surrounding land. Baby steps. A few take-away ideas that I've assimilated into my garden philosophy is that rare doesn't necessarily mean better. Some very common plants such as Achillea millefolium or common yarrow (which I accidentally spilled a whole bag of seeds of last fall) has come up here and there and it's just lovely wherever it lands. Also, grasses are most satisfying of plants, really lending themselves to the flora of this part of the world. The two together make a fine combination.

Also, when it comes to watering, I'm becoming less and less tolerant of anything that even needs "average" summer water. Facilities Manager and I find ourselves spending the better part of whole days watering. I don't have an irrigation system, so it's all by hand. Most of these plants, when mature, will not need supplemental summer water but right now they are still getting established. Water is life right now. Time is precious, we don't want to spend our lives watering. As the brown soil fills in with plants we want rather than weeds, this will also help to retain moisture. There is still a lot of bare soil, meaning a lot of evaporation. This is temporary as things are filling in and will continue on.

OK, that's a look at the gardens this week at Chickadee Gardens. I hope you are staying cool and enjoying mid-summer wherever you are. As always thank you so much for reading and until next time, happy gardening!