Sunday, March 29, 2009

Swamp Path Progress

I spent some time last weekend picking up sticks from the woods and using them to edge my paths. I shoveled some more sand around, too. I now have a clear path right to the heart of our swamp, for the moment.

Here is the view into the woods:

. . .and this is the view back out:

The War Will be Won

Chris' anti-bunny fence is up! It still needs a bit of clean-up around the edges, but it now encloses the garden.

The fence cost us less and took less time than we thought it would, so Chris asked me if I would mind if he started turning his rows into raised beds. I can't resist when he gives me those puppy-dog eyes, so I said yes. And I have to say, the result is turning out to be rather pretty, even if it does currently bear some resemblance to trench warfare.

Composting Chris

For Chris' birthday this year, I bought him a compost tumbler. This particular compost tumbler is a ball that you turn by rolling around the yard.

Before loading the icky kitchen scraps into the ball, I made Chris get inside for a photo-shoot.

So far the design of the compost ball seems sound. It wasn't too difficult to assemble, according to Chris, and in theory it can be rolled over to wherever the final compost is to be dumped. In theory it will produce compost in a matter of weeks, but that will only be true at the hottest time of the year. We plan to keep it inside the fence to discourage hungry animals from chewing into it.

Gabe's Garden, Progress!

Garden priority these last weeks has been getting Chris' fence up, but I've had some time to nibble away at Gabe's garden, too, along with some other clean-up around the yard. Here is the raspberry and strawberry bed, with the straw removed from the strawberries. I realized it was high time to release them from hibernation when I saw a butterfly in the front shrubs. (It was one of those white ones with a black spot on the wing - a cabbage white?)

Also, the peepers are singing merrily! We opened the bedroom window last night and had them serenade us.

I built up the beds of Gabe's Garden from chunks of sod, and I had been getting progressively more worried about erosion, about the soil drying up and blong off, about the work it would take to break up the sod clumps, and about the sod growing. So when I started pulling the straw off of the strawberries, I realized that I could layer it on the beds and solve all of those problems at once. When the plants are ready, I will clear places for them in the straw. It's a variation on lasagna beds, or sheet composting.

The first plants have been plunked into the beds: some irises went around the poor silly Norway maple, and our live Christmas tree from three winters ago (not pictured) went into a spot closer to the house. Neither of these are native, but it seemed like a good use for plants I needed to move anyway.

Irises are poisinous, but the base of the Norway is outside of the main "toddler containment ring". We had to move the iris patch that had been in front of the shed, in order to get Chris's bunny barrier in place. They were overgrown and in need of redistribution anyway. I dug two buckets of them - ten gallons of irises! - and gave away all but a half bucket.

This is the keyhole bed where the serviceberry seedlings will go. I would write more, but Gabe is demanding a diaper change now!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Female Deer Tick - Tick Check Time!

While Michelle, Gabe, and I were taking a lunch break Michelle suddenly startled and screeched. She then said oh crap as she searched around for the tick she though she had flung out into the room. In the end I found it crawling up her arm and picked it off into a coke bottle cap. I took it outside to get some good shots of it with the camera before "retiring" it.

It is somewhat hard to believe that this little female deer tick can fit on the head of a pencil eraser and have room for company. At this same time a large percentage of them harbor Lyme disease. Even if they bite you it takes them a while to fully embed themselves, I guess they take their time so you don't notice the bite. You have a window to remove them when you get bit, so always take the time when you've been in brush to do a tick check. I do a full check whenever I come in from the garden and I've discovered more than one that way.

I flipped it over so you could see the underside. Scary beast.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

H.R. 875

There is a bill under consideration right now called “H.R. 875: Food safety and Modernization Act of 2009”. It’s amazingly hard to read, and if I try to summarize it, I’ll do an embarrassingly poor job. But the gist of the bill is this: in the process of attempting to make the process of getting food from farm to table safer for consumers, no distinction is made between giant agro-business farms, small organic farms, and backyard gardens. The wording is so bad, that if this passes, not only will organic farms be driven out of business, but it would be illegal to keep a backyard garden without regular inspections and a ton of paperwork.

You can use this site to tell your representative that you oppose this bill.

Ironically, and more happily, the Obamas will soon be planting an organic garden at the White House! If nothing else will prompt a rewrite of H.R. 875, this will!

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Garden Sentinals

Rending claws and gnashing teeth.
Mighty ears and stomping feet.
'neath earth and sky you rend the fields.
Till tears flow free from falling yields.

This year the fight against the ravaging bunny barbarians of the Franklin woods has begun early. With the spring rains they come plundering the land of all its tender offspring. This year we are preparing a mighty wall that shall thwart both bunny and trap small children. The above picture is of the fence post hole for the post that holds up the gate. I wanted to start with the gate because I felt that would be the hardest part.

After getting the post placed and dumping in the concrete I then pounded the heck out of the ground with my rubber mallet to really pack in the dirt. The post is eight feet tall with two feet in the earth.

I assembled the gate in the garage using some cheap wooden boxes we picked up at Ikea in place of a proper work bench. My dad had helped me assemble them, and now that the growing season is upon us I am seeing all sorts of potential uses for them. This being one of them.

When Michelle helped me hang the gate on the post I was all but certain that it would topple over. I tend to be somewhat competent at most things I do because I do a lot of planning and research before I tackle something. At the same time, the first time I do something I always expect it to fail, it makes successes all the sweeter and failures part of the process. I ended up buying slightly warped 2x4's so the gate isn't exactly straight, but it is good enough for my purposes. I still need to place another chunk of wood at the base of the gate that will lie flush with the bottom of the gate. This will then sit on chicken wire attached to it and buried under ground.

The day started with an 8:30am shopping trip to Lowes to buy the 360lbs of concrete mix bags, the wood, and the chicken and fence wire. By 4pm the fence posts were all driven, the gate was hung and...

The ditch was dug along the existing fence and the chicken wire placed and attached to the fence with staple nails. The chicken wire goes down about a foot since we couldn't bend it out. For most of the fence the chicken wire will travel down about 5-6 inches and then out 5-6 inches. This general plan comes from research Michelle did along with a report on Rabbit proofing I found from Australia. I figure the Australians know about Rabbit problems.

By 4pm I was totally spent, and dispite being somewhat under the weather Michelle still had a smile for me while I took this picture of her cleaning up the tool explosion in the garden. There is still a fair bit of work to do with putting up the metal fencing and the rest of the chicken wire at the base, but the hardest part is done. The weakest link in the line will be along the treeline. The roots are incredibly thick so we'll be running the chicken wire out a foot along the ground away from the base of the fence. All our research indicates that this will work, so here's to hoping. Just think, one more weekend of fence building and then I'll be free to start working on the actual garden beds!


In the fall I planted crocuses (specific Latin name unknown) and (in the hope that it will smother weeds) thymus serphyllum - creeping thyme - at the base of the mailbox flowerbed. And it's spring! The crocuses have buds. The creeping thyme is starting to look less dead.

Crocuses sprouting up through the thyme.

Perhaps when I get home tonight this bud will be open.

Some critter sampled this one. I noticed last fall that some of the saffron crocuses were sampled as well, but in both cases, I think the bunny or deer got a bellyache and moved on.

This is one of the horribly confused crocus sativus, or saffron crocus. This growth is not new - it has been like this, beneath the snow, since December! They were supposed to grow and bloom in November, but they seem to have made a late start, and then been held in stasis over the winter. Will they die? I'm starting to think they might survive.

On another note, three, no, four nights ago, we could hear peepers from across the street! Peepers are a sort of tree frog that signal the arrival of spring with their chirping. However, temperatures dropped after that first night, cold enough for it to spit a little snow yesterday evening, even - so the frogs have put their chorus on hold.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Draba Verna, a.k.a. Whitlow Grass - Macro View

Michelle made a post on Whitlow Grass last year along with a great image of it sitting in a spoon. Up until last year I had never noticed it at all but now I'm seeing it everywhere. We have some growing in our front walkway so we took some pictures this afternoon with the new macro lens. The macro lens transforms how you look at the world and that alone makes it worth every penny it cost to buy.

Here is the Whitlow Grass as seen from about a foot above looking down. As you can see it lives in a narrow crack between bricks.

Here is that same little plant up close and personal. A brilliant bloom to herald the end of winter and the coming of spring. Click on the thumbnail to see the larger image of the plant in its full up close and person glory, from the point of view of an ant.

On Michelle's advice I've included an uncompressed view of just the flowers with their pollen dangling off and all. It is strange to have to scale down the image of something so small! Ya Spring.

Spring Planning

In theory I should have done this over the winter, but I just couldn't bring myself to think of spring when it was so far away. Now that the weather is warm, by which I mean above freezing most days, my soul yearns for the garden to begin. Mind you this is a very danger state of mind to be in while looking at plant porn from such places as Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Their website leaves something to be desired. Still, it is functional, and their seed catalog is a joy to read.

I went about the planning for this years garden with a full year of garden experience under my belt. Which means I fumbled at it again with only slightly more expertise. I did learn last year that you can actually plant all sorts of things around tomatoes and they could care less. They're the sky-scrapers of the vegetable kingdom and leave lots of room for those dwelling at street level. As such I prepared two plans for the 3rd row this year. Since it was the only row that didn't have any tomatoes plunked into it during the great bunny scouring of the garden in '08 it gets all the tomatoes this year. I only know that I'm growing Black Cherry and Amish Paste for sure, we'll see what fills in the remaining slots over the next month. Seedling strength will have something to do with it but I'm not sure which of the larger tomatoes I want for sure.

The bed that had been the pea bed last year will turn into a little potato field featuring both regular and sweet varieties. I think I will attempt to get my own slips, but I have dubious feelings as to how that will go.

The 1st and 2nd row will be well and true vegetable gardens this year assuming that the fence does its job and prevents the bunny scouring of '09. Being raised with orderly rows of plants it took a great deal of willpower to plan out the beds as they're laid out above. What keeps me on track is the knowledge I obtained last year from the results of mixing and matching different types of veggies. For instance, the carrots inter planted with the Swiss Chard did far better than those out by themselves. Referencing The Vegetable Gardener's Bible for plants that get along well together I came up with this plan and we'll see how it goes.

As with all planning it will be fun to look back in a couple months and see how far I ended up straying from this plan. The realities of life and nature may take us far away from this road map. Still I can see what it would look like in July in my and it is beautiful and tasty.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Is it Spring Yet?

I'm ready to be done hibernating, but the snow is still thick on the ground. I console myself by shooting plant porn of the windowsill chives.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Using All Parts of the Animal

Beneath our thin layer of topsoil is “fill”: inorganic sand and rock, good for building houses on but awful if you want to grow things. At first I hated this, because anywhere that we want a new in-ground bed, we have to first remove the fill. My consolation prize at first was the big rocks we dug up. The I found uses for the smaller rocks. And lastly I realized that the fill was exactly what I needed to construct a path out into the wetland. Now, every time I have a wheelbarrow full of sand, instead of taking it to some useless pile at the edge of the woods, I haul it to the end of this path and use it to make more path.

I would estimate that this little path represents about forty wheelbarrow loads.

I keep trying and failing to get a good photo of this path. It took a dusting of snow to make it stand out appropriately.

To the right of the path is my tiny pond. To the left is a brush pile made of Christmas trees which had been dumped in the swamp by the previous owners.

Gabe's Garden in the Snow

On Sunday, the day after Shannon and I got the rock ring in place, the snows of winter returned. But I’m more in tune with the seasons now: I knew that the ground was still soft, so I jumped at the chance to do more digging when Gabe went down for a nap.

Chris took some photos of me on the sly, the cheeky monkey.

It doesn’t look like much, but it is: a smaller round bed attached to the larger one, this one dug down deep in order to give the new shrub a boost. Serviveberry will be planted in this ring, and the branches will be trained up and over the little circle to form a kid-sized fort.

I’m glad I dug when I did!