February 17, 2009

You Can Find Me In The Garden If You Want Me…

This was originally shaping up to be a huge blog; heavy with both polemic and practicality. I decided to split them up. This is the garden plan as it goes at the cabin.

The Mountaintop

The top of the mountain behind the cabin was cleared a decade or so ago, and is in the slow process of remediation. I’m planning on a feral garden up there eventually, with collected wild edibles from around the county. So far, all I have done is put in a few transplanted fir trees to serve as an eventual windbreak and thrown down about 25 lbs of a local wildlife forage seed blend both to improve the soil and to draw in more deer. My goal is to make this garden actually meet the dream above, working to establish self-sustaining guilds of wild natives, so I only need to go up there when I have a hankering for wild foods, or deer huntin’

The Failure Garden
A small portion of the main garden will be dedicated to torturing plants. Experiments on nutrient bombing, water deprivation, off-season growing, forced fruiting, and whatever dumb ideas I have. By expecting to fail in most of the experiments, I will hopefully not be disappointed when I discover that strawberries cannot grow on a diet of pure urine and that you can not cross breed marijuana and hops.

The Greywater Garden

I want to do a grey water garden at the bottom of the hill below the cabin with structural bamboo. But that shit is EXPENSIVE! So it will probably be flowers and such until I find a good cheap source for thick bamboo. Thinking about setting up a few drainage beds from the grey water to feed craft gourds and maybe pumpkins for the trebuchet.

The Cabin Planters
Nothing says “home” like planters in front of the house filled with beautiful flowers. Of course, we’ll have flowers. Bee Balm, Nasturtiums, burnet, Marigolds, chamomile, Bachelor’s Button, Lavender, Lilac, Roses, Violets and Borage. Should look pretty. They are also ALL edible. Behind the cabin (south face) is a 45 square foot area totally overgrown by native Yerba Buena. It had over grown chicken wire, old wood and assorted rubbish when I first got here, and after ripping it all our, I had a few dire strands of herb. A year later, I have a lush ground cover and an unrelenting supply of tea.

The Wild Ones
Blackberry, Huckleberry, Bay and a really hilarious Boletes patch coming up in a tanoak fairy circle next to our manure pile are our primary cultivation spots. We also have oyster alley, a strand of oaks that keep falling over in the wind and which have provided oyster mushrooms three years running. I don’t expect this to continue forever, but the more I know about “when that tree fell” the easier it is to find oysters. Meanwhile, we have a good blackberry strand starting up behind the Yerba Santa, which we have been training into a hedge row. The bay is all over the place, though we have four trees by our gate. Selective pruning has provided me with a great amount of wonderful smoker chips for the BBQ (Bay smoked asparagus is one of the best things I have ever cooked in a barbeque.)

The Roadside
Our driveway runs along the edges of three hills, and during heavy rains, huge rivers run off the side of the road. I have trenched the driveway repeatedly, and have inadvertently created silty little run-off beds on the sides of the road. I’m hoping to put in some sort of useful dry land plants that can take advantage of the winter rains and make it through the summer on fog drip. (any ideas? I want useful, before pretty.)

The Main Garden

The main garden is a half acre flat spot about 100 yards from the cabin. This will be intensive raised beds, potato towers, herb spirals, inverted tomatoes and any other thing we find that works, or at least entertains. . . We’ve been sacrificing firewood for edging as we clear firebreaks, using the felled trees as the walls of our raised beds. I put down a total green manure crop in fall, using rye grass, clover, mustard vetch and bell bean seed that had been spilled at work. We mulched it with a dozen bales of wheat straw, and now have a decent pasture coming up, which I will till down at the end of this month, or the beginning of next.

This tilling is merely an attempt to get some topsoil action going on, as the clearing is mostly sandstone and clay at the moment. I’m not planning on a lifetime of soil chopping, just trying to get a bit of organic matter in the ground around the beds before the first year. Also note, that without the tilling, it would take years to do what I am still trying to do totally organically, not even adding gypsum to break up the clay.

Our raised beds are a combination of our own compost, three year old horse manure (very well composted) and peat moss along with a generous helping of the local “dirt”. Underneath the soil of the beds is a thin layer of rice straw. I chose rice straw since it doesn’t seed out like wheat. In the areas that were heavily overgrown with chaparral or yerba santa, I’ve put down unbleached cardboard sheets beneath the soil to try and kill off the root spreaders. I had a redwood shoot out of the cardboard I put down for the cabin planters, so we’ll see how this works with some actual cover over it.

I hope that in fifteen years or so, the raised beds will have rotted away the logs, and the whole garden area will be fertile and capable of sustaining plant life. My ideal dream is that some sort of symbiosis will occur and I will just go out and pick food year round with no weeding, planting or work. Yeah, right… But dreams provide direction, even if they are perfectly unattainable. I’m sure we are all familiar with that feeling.

The main garden also includes the orchard, which right now consists of a lonely self-fertile peach tree. I’m planning on apples, plums, cherries and pears as well, but don’t have the money for trees this year, nor the time and experience to try and graft my own. I am bringing up some seed from neighbor’s trees, but this is a VERY long process, so I will be bringing in some more developed babies when I can afford them.

The Seeds

We’re focusing on using only open-pollinated, non-hybrid seeds where ever possible. We hope to save, trade and share seed, with gradually decreasing orders each year as we increase our personal seed bank. I hope that in a decade or so, we’ll simply do our yearly seed planning by ordering a new varietal or two

Surprisingly, it’s only about a dollar more per packet than buying your standard Ferry Morse packets from the garden center. This year our seed order is a bit odd, as we are experimenting on growing interesting heirlooms for sale at the farmer’s market, and trying to find out what does well here. I will also admit the three colors of carrots simply feeds my current obsession with stew brewing.

This year’s Seed Order

Lima bean (Henderson Bush),
Green Beans (Contender and Mayflower),
Broccoli (Romanesco),
Brussels sprouts (Long island improved),
Cauliflower (Purple of Sicily)
Carrots (Atomic Red, Cosmic Purple, Lunar White)
Celery (Tender Crisp)
Corn (Yellow King Dent, Dakota Black Pop)
Cucumber (Crystal Apple)
Huckleberry (chichiquelite)
Strawberry (Red Wonderwild)
Quinoa (kasalala)
Bok Choi (Canton)
Peas (Sugarsnap)
Hot Pepper (Anaheim)
Sweet Pepper (Golden Cal Wonder, Sweet Chocolate)
Radish (Purple Plum)
Squash (Lebanese White Bush Marrow, and Vegetable Spaghetti)
Tomato (Green Zebra, Kentucky Beefsteak, Cherokee Purple, Red Grape, Tom Watson)
Artichoke (purple of romagia)
Asparagus (Precoce d’ argentevul)
Salad Mixes

Stuff we’re getting locally
Potatoes (Calgold, Yukon, Red LaSota, Trueblue) (We get these at cost, so aren’t pursuing anything fancy)
Garlic n Onions (We already have a bed of each coming up strong, even with the snows this winter)
Our Trees

And, finally, yet another appeal.

As I said in the companion blog; Grow! Fill boxes with dirt if you need to. Shoplift seed from walmart if that is the only way you can do it. But right now, we should all be focused on growing our own food, by any means necessary. If nothing goes wrong, you have the freshest, healthiest food possible. If the dollar tanks, or food shortages and famine erupt, you’ll at least eat a bit more than you would otherwise.

Those of you with backyard lawns, SHAME ON YOU! Tear that sod up, compost it, and plant a garden. If you already have a big backyard garden, tear out your front lawn.

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