Tractors, Turf and Twigs: Farm Updates

Every day we get a little closer to actually growing veggies, a task that will give credence to the fact that we already affectionately term our land The Farm. Up to now the focus has been on the ornamental structures of the garden in general. As we crawl closer to achieving our goal of finishing the new garden beds and destroying weeds, veggies are starting to make their way into our lives.

To start, David went down the street to rent this beast. Oh, we'd love to own one but renting is much more practical. It was very funny seeing him approach the house driving this. Good thing the rental shop is two miles away as he had a car-train behind him. Haha...good stuff.

This is what it looked like before he made his mark.

Checking his work, he's about half finished.

Finished! The area is about 40' x 50' in size.

Since we won't actually be growing veggies this summer, we decided we needed a cover crop. Crimson clover it is, and, boy, is it germinating. With the recent cooler weather and rains we are well on our way to having green manure. In addition to this we also sent soil in to Logan Labs for a soil test. I took 15 samples from the site and mixed them up, scooped out two cups and sent it off. Pretty soon I will receive analytic data breaking down its mineral content, ph and more. Thank you, Amy Campion of The World's Greatest Garden Blog, for pointing me in the right direction. After I have all of the information, I will plug it into a database on and it will spit out exactly how much of each mineral and amendment I will need to add to grow nutrient-rich food.

And since we won't be planting anything for a while, David put one of the old raised beds to use. Hobbes is supervising.

Moving along to more soil topics. This time, compost. I had a unit delivered a couple of weeks ago; it is most welcome. Here, the labyrinth garden screams for some organic matter. This was taken about six weeks ago.

Yay for Beaver Bark! This is what Joy Creek Nursery uses, it's a nice rich product.

About 14 loads in...coming along.

This is 36 wheel barrows full, plus about 10 when I initially built this garden plus about four packages of store-bought compost in 2.5 square foot bundles. It will likely require additional compost yearly.

Next up on the update list, twigs. This pile had grown to at least twice this size as pictured here in about February. It was a view-blocking eye-sore. After a failed attempt at using a wood chipper on this (ran out of time a couple of months ago), David decided to tackle it again by organizing it so when we do rent a chipper it will go like clockwork.

The smoking pile is where the blackberry canes were burned. Now, we have nice piles ready to go into the chipper. After this is cleared I have a back-stock of a few semi-shade shrubs to plant.

More twigs: This old photo from last fall shows a few hydrangeas in the bed surrounded by cinder blocks. I dug them out this winter.

That was a Herculean task and I honestly did not think they would survive my brutality. Some of these took at least a half an hour of digging as their roots went deep into hard clay. I did replant them with a little plant prayer and today they look wonderful.

The row of mopheads were already there, I planted the others in a loose row behind them in partial shade. Note the smoke from the handy fire.

One is just beginning to bloom, the others will soon follow. I am thrilled they survived as this is as charming as can be. Now that they are on the edge of sun and shade they will fare much better.

Next up: I am starting to appreciate the efforts we've put into the garden thus far and had to share this before photo of the top of the driveway from January.

I did blog about the building of this wall in February, you can revisit that post here. The rock wall garden is beginning to fill in. I cleared invasive mint from the berm, planted many hot dry loving plants such as Ceanothus, Arctostaphylos and Grevillea. Sedums and Armeria maritima is in there too. Up above the gravel line the random crocosmia from all over the berm garden have been collected and planted here for a sea of orange this summer. Below them as the grade declines is a sea of all kinds of sedums.

At the point where the soil levels off the sedums continue on into a kind of river. It will eventually  fill in, a patchwork of sorts. There is also Sisyrinchium californicum or yellow-eyed grass mixed in with hopes that it will seed around. A smaller version of the crocosmia look.

Here's a before shot from last September. See the Alchemilla mollis? That thug took over, it was the only thing that thrived. You can see how little organic matter is in the soil, it all piles up behind this wall and without an outlet for water to flow in the wet months, the would-be well-drained soil turns to a 150-foot long brick of clay. The Alchemilla mollis is gone, the soil is amended and will be annually for some time with both compost and gravel for drainage improvement.

Same general area today.

Again from last September you can see very unhappy salvias and lots of lemon balm. Oh, and Alchemilla mollis. It had all gone to seed so by this spring it was a meadow of weeds in wet clay.

This is after many loads of compost to the whole thing and partially amended with gravel. Note the azaleas on the far right in full hot blazing sun with terrible drainage.

Yay! The azaleas are gone. My Super Farmer David is a stud. They were really in there. It's not that I don't like azaleas, they were just in the wrong place and looked out of place. They now live in partial shade among fir and maple trees.

Last September.

Early spring showing just compost and azaleas, most plants intact. I think I've moved and/or replaced nearly every plant you see here.

Here it is last week, azaleas intact.

Azaleas gone, three low-growing heathers in their place. I added a ton of compost and gravel, mixed it in well and added extra gravel at the lowest point against the wall to seriously improve drainage. I would have taken photos "during" but my camera is dirty enough, this was a tough job and might have been beyond cleaning.

We also found a 10-inch garter snake living in the berm. We hope he likes the urban improvements.

And I have added a few sweet little Thymus vulgaris 'Silver Posie' up front as well as several Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan' and Veronicastrum virginicum. There were a few Perovskias scattered about, I gathered those up and planted them at this end of the garden. I am trying to have large sweeps of singular plants in appropriate places, and it's quite a challenge with such a large area of existing plants. Much digging, moving, composting, graveling goes on regularly.

And now for more turf: It turns out our first efforts with the sod cutter were a bit experimental, meaning we missed a bunch of chunks. David rented another cutter for a couple hours of fun. That is some hard work. Great job, David! Once it's all removed we will cultivate the whole area and add compost. The master plan is falling into place.

Some re-tilled areas awaiting their new life. More updates on this area another time. Now, let's reward ourselves for all this hard work with some flower photos:

In this case, fruit photos. Pa, the olive crop is coming along real good.

Very pleased to see this - Asclepias tuberosa or showy milkweed. I bought two from Humble Roots Nursery knowing they might go dormant like all the others I've planted before. Not this batch, no sir. These are up and ready to play. 

My Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue' survived the move and is much larger than ever.

I've decided I really like Santolina virens, good old fashioned lavender cotton. It will be everywhere in this garden eventually.

Finally, the bloom of newly planted Cotinus 'Pink Champagne'.

Well, there you have it. I have taken many ibuprofen today, like every other day. But it's worth it and I can see glimpses of what it just might look like someday. We're really looking forward to growing veggies and some fruits, too, very soon but we have to clear that land around the newly-tilled area. Hopefully the neighbors will loan us their goats.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always thank you so much for reading along! Happy gardening to you all! 


  1. So many changes ! It's not that long ago that we all visited , and you both have done so much ! I was just admiring my clump of Santoina , it does keep its shape nicely !

    1. Santolina is great - isn't it? As far as doing so much, we just plug away every day that weather permits and hope for the best!

  2. It looks great! I'm actually rather envious of the progress you've made in such a short time, and the scale of your projects. It will be especially interesting to see what thrives on the berm. I was just thinking today that I should evaluate the plants growing in my two worst clay spots. I may have some suggestions for you.

    1. Well, scale is tackled nicely because of the Husband Unit (forgive, I just watched the Star Trek movie and am talking like Vyger). Bring on the suggestions, I'm all ears Evan.

  3. Great work! You have done so much and it looks wonderful! Can't wait to see it again in a year or two.

    1. Me too! Ha hah....any ideas for me oh Man of the Gorgeous Garden?

  4. Dang, everything is looking really great! Ok, this is a super basic question, but how many inches of compost did you spread over the ground? And did you till it in or just top dress it? And how often must compost be added to get really good soil? Thanks for the post, T!

    1. Thanks, Fifi - it's about time you guys came out again! Compost - as many inches as you can afford. In the "labyrinth" garden there is about a 3 inch layer, I'd say. I just top dressed but working it in a little would be great, I just haven't gotten that far. There is some scientific info that says just topdressing is best, that is to say no need to add it to the hole while planting (here's a link to an article -- to only topdress. I say, personally, I like to add it to the planting hole too, even if there's no science to back up my devious ways.

      I add compost annually, usually in the fall but this is an exception, building a new garden.

    2. Thanks, T! I'd love to come back and out and time i would love to bring my dad too, if you guys don't mind! He'd love to see your gorgeous spot in the country. So, yes, I like the top dressing answer because it means slightly less work! Ok thanks a lot for that link and insight.

  5. It all looks so wonderful! Your soil looks good even before the compost...(said the gal from SC red clay country). What fun to build all these gardens. I am also jealous of your hydrangeas- the deer have eaten all of mine to bare sticks. aughhh

    1. You think so? Red clay...that's interesting, some of mine has red streaks in it, iron content maybe?

      It is fun, fun to dream and look at amazing photos from other gardens and take bits and bobs from each to build a Frankengarden. But it's MY Frankengarden and I love it!! Oh, the hydrangeas - I do love them but they are such water-loving princesses that I'm afraid for them this summer. Our summers have been SO hot and not equipped to handle water loving anything but I'll give them a go! Sorry about the deer - I have them too, but a fence thankfully keeps them out.

  6. You continue to make impressive progress! I'm almost exhausted just reading about it. All the compost you've added is already having a positive impact and I can imagine how good those beds will look in just a year's time.

    1. Thanks Kris! I am rooting for the plants, they seem pretty happy so far. I think all told, I have lost about 10 - 15 plants from the move...not bad considering there were so very many. I think these guys will do well, but I am worried about the sand that was in the "labyrinth" garden - there were a few inches of it on top of the soil and I'm worried the whole thing will turn into concrete. Time will tell, it's a grand experiment!

  7. I enjoyed meeting you at Joy Creek Nursery yesterday. You and David certainly made mammoth improvements to your garden. Soil fertility, as you know from your experiences, means so much to growing all plants. Great job, both of you!


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