Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spring chores and planting out the nut orchard/woodlot....

Did some general cleanup around the farm first thing this morning, while I waited for our neighbor up the road to swing by with her parents and take some barn wood for a chicken coop she's building.  I cleaned the old canes out of the stinging nettle patches.  They're just starting to poke out their first growth.  Can't wait to start harvesting for cooking/tea.  I'm sure not too many people enjoy cultivating them as much as we do.  We cherish them as a no-fuss, no-maintenance, delicious and nutrient-dense  addition to our spring diet.

And now that spring is arriving, some of our earliest fruit trees are starting to bloom.  Our Galaxy Peach tree by the driveway is about half-bloomed, and I even spied some honeybees attending to the flowers today.  Not much besides our maple trees are blooming out here yet, I imagine they are taking what they can get... soon enough there will be an endless bounty for them.

Our neighbor and her folks showed up around 10am, and spent the better part of three hours selectively pulling wood off the barn wreckage.  They moved more than they took, and you can hardly tell there's any missing.

I spent the better part of the day out in the field, planting chestnut and black locust seedlings.  This is the perfect time of year for such a task, before the field becomes an impenetrable riot of switchgrass and field weeds, and the clouds of mosquitoes swell to semi-biblical proportions even during the hottest part of the day.  Today there was only the crunch of last year's brittle growth under foot.

Having received approximately no human attention for the better part of fifteen or twenty years, the soil in the field has benefited from the constant cycle of growth and decay playing out along it's surface.  It is still somewhat clay-heavy in spots, but driving a spade into the ground most anywhere produces earth that is dark and crumbly and absolutely loaded with worms and their casings.  Still, I'm hedging my bets by planting the chestnuts in the best-draining areas only.

About half of the chestnuts I bought are only 1-2 year old seedlings, and are looking a bit wimpy to plant out in the field at their small size.  I may pot them up near the house and grow them a bit before transplanting them.

Total tally for the day was a total of seventeen trees planted... six Silverleaf Chestnuts and eleven Black Locust seedlings.  I took special care with the chestnuts, clearing a large three-foot-square area and covering it with landscaping fabric and mulch.  Every tree got a Tubex tree tube, to speed growth and because the rabbits and deer are always hungry.

Spent the last portion of the day removing the failed grape trellis that runs behind the house.  The grapes (which are always described as being carefree and easy to grow) languished since day one... I think they were in soil that was too heavy, with not enough water and too many insects (Japanese Beetles especially) that enjoyed munching on them.  A few of the larger specimens might end up in the plant hospital depending on how they bud out, but most aren't even worth saving.

We're thinking that when we try a mass-planting of grapes again, we're going to plan it out better first this time... finding the right grapes and putting them in the right location.  Novel idea, huh?  Ah well, this is how we learn...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Chestnut orchard layout, even more raised beds, and accidental garlic...

After coffee and a few pieces of Leah's excellent banana bread, I pulled on my muck boots and waded out into our very skooshy farm.  We've had significant amounts of rain over the past few days (finally!) and the soil in the field is pretty waterlogged.

I drove some T-posts to mark out the locations of soon-to-be-planted trees, along the better-drained and less consistently marshy eastern edge of our fallow field.  This year I'll be putting in between ten and twenty blight-resistant chestnut trees (about five different varieties), interplanted with black locust seedlings.  The goal is to begin converting this portion of our field towards a more productive and diverse forest area that will one day provide us with food and timber.

All the plants in the area are loving the moisture and have seemingly sprung to life overnight.  The grass which looked patchy and very dormant as recently as a week ago now looks like it might need mowing soon (ugh).

We've been reading Gene Logsdon's Living at Nature's Pace: Farming and the American Dream this month for our Meetup group's book club, and it's got me reminding myself of the importance of being constantly aware of and an expert on one's own place, down to every seemingly mundane detail.

So amongst the moss and wet and mouldering remnants of last year's growth (and the ever more ubiquitous spiked rosettes of teasel), I spotted a few plants I was unfamiliar with:

After some research, I'm pretty sure this is some kind of cress.  The closest ID I could find was Early Winter Cress, but I'm still not 100% sure.  I'd like to be sure before I try nibbling on it.  But I want to.  Because I love cress.

Leah also noticed some type of volunteer sedum growing down by the swale on one of the piles where I've dumped potentially live plant material that I didn't want gaining a foothold in our compost piles.  We've found some similar looking plants on Google image search, but are also finding them identified (potentially mis-identified) as various different species of sedum.

We're discussing rescuing it from the unruly riot that is our woods edge down by the swale and giving it a more dignified home in a pot up near the house.  It certainly is lovely looking.

We've been planning to expand our existing Zone 1 raised bed area that we use for more intensive cultivation of annuals along the southeast side of the house.  We've had the lumber sitting around for a while, but I just got around to drilling and screwing the beds together today.

I assembled four 4'x8'x12" beds, and Leah and I tried some different placements to see what looked best.  We're gonna let them sit for a bit and see how it looks from different angles before we extend the fabric/gravel and formally install them.

If you look closely in the picture above, you can see little sprigs of green around the interior edge of our raised beds... that's our garlic, dutifully performing it's duties as one of spring's tastiest ephemerals.

Speaking of garlic, we've had some garlic bulbs that we missed in last fall's "hasty harvest" sprout up bunches of greens at the same time as their more fastidiously harvested/stored/replanted brethren, and this has me thinking....

Leah reminded me that some people just leave the garlic in the soil year-round rather than harvesting it in summer and then replanting later in fall.  I'm not sure what the advantages/disadvantages to this method, but I carefully dug up,  separated and replanted our "forgotten" shoots at wider intervals.  We'll see how they fare in relation to the cloves we planted in the fall.  A garlic experiment!  For science!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Seattle to Install Public Seven Acre Food Forest

I am excited and gladdened to see this NPR feature discussing the creation of a permaculture-designed, free-to-forage public food forest in metro Seattle.  From the piece:
The idea is to give members of the working-class neighborhood of Beacon Hill the chance to pick plants scattered throughout the park – dubbed the Beacon Food Forest. It will feature fruit-bearing perennials — apples, pears, plums, grapes, blueberries, raspberries and more. Herlihy and a team first assembled their vision of a food forest in 2009 as a final project for a permaculture design class.
The project appears to be funded by a combination of public and private donations, including the land the park is to be situated on (donated by a local utility).

In an era in which so much land sits vacant and unused, most especially in areas which could greatly benefit from a local source of fresh, nutrient-dense food, this type of project should serve as a model to communities everywhere.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Here Comes the Dirt!

We had the benefit of some beautiful, truly spring-like weather this weekend, and tried hard to utilize it.

I spent saturday doing mostly cleanup work... removing an old flower barrel out by the road, leveling out some old flowerbeds and relocating some poorly planned tree/shrub plantings that annually became weedy eyesores and made mowing (even) more difficult.  I even spread some grass seed in the disturbed areas (but oh, how it pains me to actively plant the cursed stuff).  The overall effect will be to smooth out and clean up the look of the frontage quite a bit, and make mowing the area more efficient.

We had 20 cubic yards of soil delivered on Saturday morning, and thankfully the driver was able to land it right next to/kinda on-top-of the beds we'll be filling.  As I've learned, the less long-distance trips you have to make in the sun with a wheelbarrow full of soil, the better.

The landscaping fabric hasn't been down long enough to fully kill the grass, so for the beds that we're filling/planting first, I'm laying down cardboard under the soil to finish off the turf.

We cut and pulled back the landscaping fabric, laid the cardboard, and filled the beds with soil. Once the cardboard deteriorates, the soil in the beds will be in direct contact with the soil beneath.

We planted our first direct-seeded crops tonight as well, seeding one of the two beds we filled... a double row of Sugar Sprint snap peas, two rows of German Giant radishes, and a row of turnips.

We took a break for a few hours out to go take Heidi on a walk around the park in Richwood, and got some ice cream.  We also scored some more cardboard from the recycle-dumpster in town.

At the rate we're going, a few more solid work days and we should have the new garden beds filled and planted.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

New Trees Get Temporary Garage Vacation

The bulk of our new trees/shrubs showed up in a box from Burnt Ridge Nursery on Monday.  We're not quite ready to start planting them en masse, but I wanted to get them out of the box and into some soil (the nursery standard "throw some wet newspapers in the box to keep the roots moist" trick can go awry rather quickly in a small enclosed airspace).

So after getting home last night, I spent half an hour madly trying to get them all toed in/potted before the sun went down.  Some of them had already started leafing out, which would be bad news if they got left outside for a hard freeze.

So now the front end of our garage is positively crammed with semi-dormant baby trees and shrubs!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

First seed sprouts and more indoor seed starting.

Behold!  Our first indoor-seeded sprout of the 2013 growing season.  This is one of the collards we seeded last weekend, that's been germinating away on a rack in the relatively cool temps of our guest room.  Several other cells of collards have popped as well.  Nothing yet on the cabbage or leeks.

Having received our seedling heat mats in the mail the week before, and with our seeds neatly organized (as only Leah can), we set off last night to get our second round of seeds started indoors.

We planted tomatoes, peppers, and some perennial herbs.  Also, for the first time, we're trying to grow some Thai Red Roselle.

We got our heat mats situated in the grow rack I built several years ago, with LED grow lights.  We situated it in the guest bathroom to keep it the pets out of it while the seeds do their business.

At the moment, the forecast is calling for warmer temps for the rest of this week, so we just might have a nice outdoor working weekend coming up.  Which is good, as the bulk of our new trees/shrubs/perennials just showed up in a big box from Burnt Ridge Nursery.

We are quickly approaching the time of year where the amount of things that need to be done easily and constantly outpaces the time I have to do them.  It feels a bit like being at the highest point on a roller coaster, right before it drops.

I need to call our gravel supplier and see if their crusher is back up and running.  I need to call our soil supplier and see about getting another ungodly huge pile of soil delivered.  I need to do about a billion things, actually, so maybe I'd better start by making a list...