Happy Easter!

Heirloom irises from my good friend Jean are blooming.

Heirloom irises from my good friend Jean are blooming.

A Western fence lizard suns and guards his territory atop a clary sage leaf.  See the flash of blue under his chin to attract the ladies?

A Western fence lizard suns and guards his territory atop a clary sage leaf. See the flash of blue under his chin to attract the ladies?

This green calla lily is gorgeous.

This green calla lily is gorgeous.

Framed by curly willow from the Withy Bird Hide, two drakes swim in the pond on Easter morning.

Framed by curly willow from the Withy Bird Hide, two drakes swim in the pond on Easter morning.

Sweet peas are still blooming.  They hold the permaculture precept of everything having three purposes: they are nitrogen fixers, they are edible, and they are gorgeous.

Sweet peas are still blooming. They hold the permaculture precept of everything having three purposes: they are nitrogen fixers, they are edible, and they are gorgeous.

A fancy drake who showed up this morning.

A fancy drake who showed up this morning.

The irises surrounding the pond are spectacular right now.  Blue, dark blue and yellow flag.

The irises surrounding the pond are spectacular right now. Blue, dark blue and yellow flag.

Baby bunny has been growing out his ears. He's enjoying a warm dirt bath.

Baby bunny has been growing out his ears. He’s enjoying a warm dirt bath.

Mulan has gone broody.  Such a large chicken puddles out over the wooden egg she's trying to hatch.  We're feeding her an oatmeal mixture in a dish because she won't come down during the day.

Mulan has gone broody. Such a large chicken puddles out over the wooden egg she’s trying to hatch. We’re feeding her an oatmeal mixture in a dish because she won’t come down during the day.

Easter breakfast.  Hard boiled eggs, naturally colored by our hens, fresh tangerine juice, our traditional stollen from my mother's recipe, and Peanut in his chicky robe ready to launch into the food.  Peanut doesn't act his age, of about 40+ years, but has traveled and been photographed extensively in Europe and Ecuador.   Its nice that he wakes up for holidays.

Easter breakfast. Hard boiled eggs, naturally colored by our hens, fresh tangerine juice, our traditional stollen from my mother’s recipe, and Peanut in his chicky robe ready to launch into the food. Peanut doesn’t act his age, of about 40+ years, but has traveled and been photographed extensively in Europe and Ecuador. Its nice that he wakes up for holidays.

 

Actively Aerated Compost Tea

Aerator, molasses, a paint strainer full of compost and a bucket of water.

Aerator, molasses, a paint strainer full of compost and a bucket of water.

There are many teas for the garden.  Manure tea is made by steeping… you guessed it… well-aged manure in water for several days.  Well-aged is the key.  Many years ago I gathered horse manure, made a tea and righteously spread it – and all the Bermuda grass seed that was in it – all over my vegetable garden.  I’m still battling the grass.  With fresh manure you are also brewing some nasty bacteria with which you really shouldn’t be dealing.  Allowing well aged or composted manure to brew for a couple of days will produce a nice nutrient tea for your plants.  There are better brews for your effort.

Plain compost tea is when you take samples of good soil and allow them to steep in water for several days and use that.  This brew has some microbes and basic nutrients in it and is better than plain water for enhancing your soil and as a foliar spray.

However there is a super brew called actively aerated compost tea.  It is very simple and inexpensive to make and it works wonders.  There are many recipes for it, depending upon how analytical you want to become.  Studying your soil under a microscope and following the advice of Dr. Elaine Ingham will give you the premium tea for your particular soil.  Dr. Ingham and Dr. Carole Ann Rollins have many books out on the subject of microorganismsin the soil which are all fascinating and well worth the read; if you ever have the chance to hear Dr. Ingham speak, take it!

I don’t tinker with my tea at this time because I just don’t have the time for it.  You may not, either.  So this is the basic aerated compost tea recipe that will revitalize your soil:

You will need a 5-gallon bucket, a paint strainer or cheesecloth or an old sock, a fish tank aerator or air bubbler, and some organic unsulphered molasses.

Fill the bucket with either rainwater or tapwater that has stood for at least a day for the chlorine to have evaporated.

Take the paint strainer or sock and fill it with samples of good soil from around your property.  If you don’t have any good soil, then add the best you have and then take good soil from areas as close to your property as possible.  If you will be using the tea on bushes and trees, then be sure to take soil from under the same.  Woody plants  like highly fungal soil.  If you will be using the tea for annuals and veggies, then go heavy on fine, well-composted soil that is bacteria-rich.  Do the best you can; you can’t go wrong unless you take soil that has been sprayed with chemicals, use treated wood chips, or anaerobic soil (you’ll smell it if you do).

Tie the top of the cloth and put it into the bucket.  You may tie twine or something around it so that you can haul it out of the bucket if you’d like.  This is important on larger containers, but not so much with the small bucket.

Place the aerator or bubbler in the bucket, making sure the air intake hose is clear, and plug it in.

Add about a tablespoon of molasses.  It is important that the molasses is unsulphered and organic for the same reasons that the water shouldn’t have chlorine in it or the soil any chemicals: those things will hurt the microbes that you will be growing.

Allow the aerator to do its thing for about 13 hours.  There is much discussion about how long you leave it, etc., just as there are hundreds of stew recipes.  This is the recipe taught me in my PDC and one I’ve heard elsewhere.  If your tea smells bad, any hint of ammonia or ‘off’ smells, don’t apply it to your plants.  You’ll be hurting them.  Be sure you have good compost, fresh water and proper aeration, and don’t let it sit too long.

What you are making is not just tea, it is soil inoculant.  The micororganisms in the compost will feed on the molasses and oxygen, reproducing until at about 13 hours their numbers will peak and begin dying off a little.  The tea should be used within a couple of hours.

Brew the tea for 13 hours then gently apply as a soil drench or foliar spray.

Brew the tea for 13 hours then gently apply as a soil drench or foliar spray.

What this tea is doing when applied, is establishing or boosting the fungus, bacteria, amoebas, nematodes, and other soil inhabitants in your dirt, all of which are native to your particular area.  If you have decent soil already, then you can use this tea 1:10 parts dechlorinated water.  If you have rotten dirt, use it straight along with a topping of compost.  Compost, whether it be cooked composed compost, straight leaf matter, shredded wood, logs, damp cardboard or natural fabrics, all provide shelter and hold moisture in so that your microbes have habitat.  Compost, of course, is the best source of food, moisture and shelter for them.

Apply the tea with a watering can, or a sprayer that has a large opening for the nozzle if you are using the tea as a foliar spray.  A squeeze-trigger bottle used for misting has too narrow an opening and will kill a lot of the little guys you have just grown.

Using the tea as a foliar spray will treat disease, fungus and nutrient deficiencies, and help protect plants against insect attack.  Instead of spraying sulfur or Bordeaux solution on your trees as is preached by modern gardening books, use compost tea on the leaves and around the drip line. When applied to leaves, the plant’s exudates hold the beneficial microorganisms to the stomata or breathing holes protecting them from disease and many harmful insects. You can’t overdose with compost tea.

All the additives that are recommended to ‘improve’ your soil are bandages not solutions.  Think of the billions of soft-bodied creatures living in your soil, waiting for organic matter to eat.  Then think of the lime, the rock dusts, the gypsum, the sulfur, the NPK concentrated chemical fertilizers (even derived from organic sources), poured onto these creatures.  It burns them, suffocates them and kills them.  Your plants show some positive results to begin with because they’ve just received a dose of nutrients, both from what you applied and from the dead bodies of all those murdered microbes.  However the problem still is there.  The only long-term solution to locked-up nutrients in the soil, hard pan, heavy clay, sand, compaction, burned, or poisoned soil, is good microbe-filled compost.  Remember that microbes turn soil into a neutral pH, and allow more collection of neutral pH rainwater.  Nutrients in the soil all become available at a neutral pH; there is no such thing as an iron-deficient soil.  The nutrients are just locked away from the roots because of the lack of microbes and the pH.

There are compost tea brewers of all sizes, and lots of discussion about how well they work and whether they actually kill off a lot of microbes.  See Dr. Elaine Ingham’s work for discussion on different brewers.  For large scale operations there are large tanks with aggressive aerators, and the tea is sprayed from the tanks from a truck bed directly on the fields.  If you can’t compost your entire property, then spraying compost tea is the next best thing.

If you’d like to be more involved with the biology of your tea, see Qualitative Assessment of Microorganisms by Dr. Elaine Ingham and Dr. Carole Ann Rollins.  This book has photos of different soil components as they appear under a microscope, identifying and explaining them.  By studying your soil’s balance through a microscope and then tweaking your tea to compensate you’ll be making the most powerful soil inoculant you can.

 

Curly Willow Trellis

A walk-through squash trellis.  The vines will give it stability, and hang through.

A walk-through squash trellis. The vines will give it stability, and hang through.

Thanks to generous friends, free seed opportunities and wonderful seed catalogs, we have many, many squash varieties to choose from this year.  We also want to grow vertically where we can to save space so my daughter and I are creating trellises.  No builder, I, but we’re hoping these will last for years to come.

This part of the trail was perfect for vertical growing space.

This part of the trail was perfect for vertical growing space.

This area of the upper trail isn’t lovely when not covered by vines.  It is also quite warm when people are touring and it could use some shade and interesting focal point.  Miranda had cut down a large curly willow tree a few months back (it was taking too much water from an avocado).  We used a couple pieces of the trunk to inoculate with mushroom spores, and the rest was fair game for a trellis.

Curly willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’) has wonderfully shaped branches that twist and curl naturally.  You’ll see it often in bouquets, where it usually roots while in water.  This willow enjoys more sun and a little less water than native willows do.  Willows all produce salicin, the pain-killing ingredient that  has now been synthetized as aspirin.  Willows also produce a rooting hormone which can be used to encourage sprouting and rooting of other plants.  Cut up a willow branch, soak it in water for a couple of days (if water is chlorinated, leave it sit for a day before adding willow) and use to water seedlings.

A friend recommended sliding the post pounder over the post before standing it up... for we short people who have trouble lifting the really heavy thing over our heads!

Miranda makes this look so easy!  After we’d put these in, a friend recommended sliding the post pounder over the post before standing it up… for we short people who have trouble lifting the really heavy thing over our heads! 

Wanting to avoid cutting wood and nailing things together, we sunk four T-posts into the corners.  The trellis is six feet across and eight feet wide; any wider and we would have put a center post on each side as well.

We wired on curly willow trunks in the corners, and wired long branches across the tops and the middle.

We wired on curly willow trunks in the corners, and wired long branches across the tops and the middle.

 

We wired on the side posts and cross posts, cutting long branches from the willow.  This willow was long dead; fresh willow could be sunk into the ground and it would root to make a living trellis, like the Withy Hide.  We didn’t want that here, though.

We laid long whips from a Brazilian pepper tree across, then wove curly willow through for the top.

We laid long whips from a Brazilian pepper tree across, then wove curly willow through for the top.

We stood smaller branches upright along the sides and wired them on, keeping in mind spaces where the squash vines will want to find something on which to grab.  Over the top we laid long  slim branches from a Brazilian pepper that is growing wild in the streambed and really needs to come out.  By pruning it and using the branches, we’re making use of the problem.  In permaculture, the problem is the solution!  I wanted to make an arched top and tried to nail the  slim branches in a bended form, but this was difficult and didn’t work for me.  I didn’t want to spend days finishing this… too much else to do!  So we laid the branches over the top, wiring some on, and then wove curly willow branches long-wise through them.  This weaving helps hold the branches in place, will give the vines support, and brings together the look.

We planted four kinds of squash along the poles.

We planted four kinds of squash along the poles.

And it was done. It should stand up to wind.  We may need  to add some vertical support depending upon the weight of the squash vines.  We planted four varieties of squash that have small (2-3 lb.) veg.  We planted four seeds of each, two on either side.  We also planted some herbs, flowers and alliums, and some perennial beans, the Golden Runner Bean.

Architecturally interesting when not covered by squash as well.

Architecturally interesting when not covered by squash as well.

If nothing else, it is lovely and interesting to look at; better in person than in the photos.  We can’t wait for the squash to start vining!  Now, onto the next trellis.

 

 

 

 

 

Finch Frolic Facebook!

Thanks to my daughter Miranda, our permaculture food forest habitat Finch Frolic Garden has a Facebook page.  Miranda steadily feeds information onto the site, mostly about the creatures she’s discovering that have recently been attracted to our property.  Lizards, chickens, web spinners and much more.  If you are a Facebook aficionado, consider giving us a visit and ‘liking’ our page.  Thanks!

Sauteed Fennel

 

Sautéed fennel alongside squash bread pudding.  The bread pudding recipe I have to work on, but not the fennel!  It was so easy and so fantastic!

Sautéed fennel alongside squash bread pudding. The bread pudding recipe I have to work on, but not the fennel! It was so easy and so fantastic!

Fennel is a sweet-tasting bulb with a satisfying crunch. This recipe is quick and easy, and absolutely delicious. I don’t have a good photo of it because, frankly, we ate it before I could make the light better.

Fennel apparently doesn’t have any companion plants according to every source I’ve checked.  I grew a couple of bulbs in a polyculture bed without any problem, but to be on the safe side give it a spot by itself.  Allow some to go to flower and you’ll attract lots of pollinators, and also have a host plant for swallowtail and other butterflies.

This recipe serves two as a side dish; feel free to up the number of bulbs.  Enjoy!

 

Sauteed Fennel
Author: 
Recipe type: Side dish
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
 
A simple, quick and utterly delicious vegetable side dish.
Ingredients
  • One fennel bulb
  • ⅛th cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Squeeze of lemon or lime
Instructions
  1. Cut the top and bottom from the fennel bulb, then slice the fennel into small strips, about ¼ inch thick or so.
  2. Heat oil in a large frying pan and adjust heat to medium.
  3. Add fennel and cook, stirring occasionally to evenly brown, about ten minutes or until fennel is tender. Fennel should be slightly carmelized.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve with a squeeze of lemon or lime, if desired.

The Mulberry Guild

The renovated and planted mulberry guild.

The renovated and planted mulberry guild.

One of our larger guilds has a Pakistani mulberry tree that I’d planted last spring, and around it had grown tomatoes, melons, eggplant, herbs, Swiss chard, artichokes and garlic chives.

Mulberry guild with last year's plant matter and unreachable beds.

Mulberry guild with last year’s plant matter and unreachable beds.

This guild was too large; any vegetable bed should be able to be reached from a pathway without having to step into the bed.  Stepping on your garden soil crushes fungus and microbes, and compacts (deoxygenates) the soil.  So of course when I told my daughter last week  that we had to plant that guild that day, what I ended up meaning was, we were going to do a lot of digging in the heat and maybe plant the next day. Most of my projects are like this.

Lavender, valerian, lemon balm, horehound, comfrey and clumping garlic chives were still thriving in the bed.  Marsh fleabane, a native, had seeded itself all around the bed and had not only protected veggies from last summer’s extreme heat, but provided trellises for the current tomatoes.

Fleabane stalks from last year, with new growth coming from the roots.

Fleabane stalks from last year, with new growth coming from the roots.

Marsh fleabane is an incredible lure for hundreds of our tiny native pollinators and other beneficial insects.  Lots of lacewing eggs were on it, too.  The plants were coming up from the base, so we cut and dropped these dead plants  to mulch the guild.

The stalks of fleabane are hollow... perfect homes for small bees!

The stalks of fleabane are hollow… perfect homes for small bees!

The stems were hollow and just the right size to house beneficial bees such as mason bees.   This plant is certainly a boon for our first line of defense, our native insects.

We also chopped and dropped the tomato vines.  Tomatoes like growing in the same place every year.  With excellent soil biology – something we are still working on achieving with compost and compost teas – you don’t have to rotate any crops.

Slashed and dropped tomato and fleabane.

Slashed and dropped tomato and fleabane.

We had also discovered in the last flood that extra water through this heavy clay area would flow down the pathway to the pond, often channeled there via gopher tunnels.

The pathway is a water channel during heavy rains.  It needs fixing.

The pathway is a water channel during heavy rains. It needs fixing.

We decided to harvest that water and add water harvesting pathways to the garden at the same time.  We dug a swale across the pathway, perpendicular to  the flow of water, and continued the swale into the garden to a small hugel bed.

Swale dug on contour through the pathway and across the guild.

Swale dug on contour through the pathway and across the guild.

Hugelkultur means soil on wood, and is an excellent way to store water in the ground, add nutrients, be rid of extra woody material and sequester carbon in the soil.  We wanted the bottom of the swale to be level so  that water caught on the pathway would slowly travel into the bed and passively be absorbed into the surrounding soil.  We used our wonderful bunyip (water level).

Using a bunyip to make the bottom of the swale level.  Water running into the path will now be channeled through the guild.

Using a bunyip to make the bottom of the swale level. Water running into the path will now be channeled through the guild.

Because of the heavy clay involved we decided to fill the swale with woody material, making it a long hugel bed.  Water will enter the swale in the pathway, and will still channel water but will also percolate down to prevent overflow.  We needed to capture a lot of water, but didn’t want a deep swale across our pathway.  By making it a hugel bed with a slight concave surface it will capture water and percolate down quickly, running along the even bottom of the swale into the garden bed, without there being a trippable hole for visitors to have to navigate.  So we filled the swale with stuff.  Large wood is best for hugels because they hold more water and take more time to decompose, but we have little of that here. We had some very old firewood that had been sitting on soil.  The life underneath wood is wonderful; isn’t this proof of how compost works?

The activity under an old log shows so many visible decomposers, and there are thousands that we don't see.

The activity under an old log shows so many visible decomposers, and there are thousands that we don’t see.

We laid the wood into the trench.

Placing old logs in the swale.

Placing old logs in the swale.

If you don’t have old logs, what do you use?  Everything else!

This giant palm has been a home to raccoons and orioles, and a perch for countless other birds.  The last big wind storm distributed the fronds everywhere.

This giant palm has been a home to raccoons and orioles, and a perch for countless other birds. The last big wind storm distributed the fronds everywhere.

We are wealthy in palm fronds.

Three quick cuts (to fit the bed) made these thorny fronds perfect hugelbed components

Three quick cuts (to fit the bed) made these thorny fronds perfect hugelbed components.

We layered all sorts of cuttings with the clay soil, and watered it in, making sure the water flowed across the level swale.

We filled the swale with fronds, rose and sage trimmings, some old firewood and sticks, and

We filled the swale with fronds, rose and sage trimmings, some old firewood and sticks, and clay.

As we worked, we felt as if we were being watched.

Can you spot the duck in this photo?

Can you spot the duck in this photo?

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were out for a graze, boldly checking out our progress.  He is guarding her as she hikes around the property, leading him on a merry chase every afternoon.  You can see Mr. Mallard to the left of the little bridge.

This male mallard and his mate, who is 'ducked' down in front of him, enjoyed grazing on weeds and watching we silly humans work so hard.

This male mallard and his mate, who is ‘ducked’ down in front of him, enjoyed grazing on weeds and watching we silly humans work so hard.

After filling the swale, we covered the new trail that now transects the guild with cardboard to repress weeds.

Cardboard laid over the hugelswale.

Cardboard laid over the hugelswale.

 

Then we covered that with wood chips and delineated the pathway with sticks; visitors never seem to see the pathways and are always stepping into the guilds.  Grrr!

The cardboard was covered with wood chips and the pathway delineated with sticks.

The cardboard was covered with wood chips and the pathway delineated with sticks.  Where the trail curves to the left is a small raised hugelbed to help hold back water.

At this point the day – and we – were done, but a couple of days later we planted.  Polyculture is the best answer to pest problems and more nutritional food.  We chose different mixes of seeds for each of the quadrants, based on situation, neighbor plants, companion planting and shade.  We kept in mind the ‘recipe’ for plant guilds, choosing a nitrogen-fixer, a deep tap-rooted plant, a shade plant, an insect attractor, and a trellis plant.  So, for one quarter we mixed together seeds of carrot, radish, corn, a bush squash, leaf parsley and a wildflower.  Another had eggplant, a short-vined melon (we’ll be building trellises for most of our larger vining plants), basil, Swiss chard, garlic, poppies, and fava beans.  In the raised hugelbed I planted peas, carrots, and flower seeds.

In the back quadrant next to the mulberry I wanted to trellis tomatoes.

This quadrant by the mulberry needed a trellis for tomatoes.

This quadrant by the mulberry needed a trellis for tomatoes.

I’d coppiced some young volunteer oaks, using the trunks for mushroom inoculation, and kept the tops because they branched out and I thought maybe they’d come in handy.  Sure enough, we decided to try one for a tomato trellis.  Tomatoes love to vine up other plants.  Some of ours made it about ten feet in the air, which made them hard to pick but gave us a lesson in vines and were amusing to regard.  So we dug a hole and stuck in one of these cuttings, then hammered in stakes on either side and tied the whole thing up.

Tying the trunk to two stakes with twine taken from straw bales.  Love the blue color!

Tying the trunk to two stakes with twine taken from straw bales. Love the blue color!

The result looks like a dead tree.  However, the leaves will drop, providing good mulch, the tiny current tomatoes which we seeded around the trunk will enjoy the support of all the small twigs and branches, and will cascade down from the arched side.

The 'dead tree' look won't last long as the tomatoes climb over it and dangle close to the path for easy harvesting.

The ‘dead tree’ look won’t last long as the tomatoes climb over it and dangle close to the path for easy harvesting.

We seeded the area with another kind of carrots (carrots love tomatoes!) and basil, and planted Tall Telephone beans around the mulberry trunk to use and protect it with vines.  We watered it all in with well water, and can’t wait to see what pops up!  We have so many new varieties from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and other sources that we’re planting this year!  Today we move onto the next bed.

You Can Only Catch So Much Rain!

 

3-6-14 052After a seriously dry and warm winter, last weekend we received most of our rain allotment over four days. Here in Fallbrook we received four inches.  A long soaking rain would have been preferable, but I’m happy for what we received. Normally we receive downpours like cranky temper tantrums of the clouds that thunder down for a minute and then whimper away, but not this time.

The pathway between the Mexican bush sage and quail bush became a river.  Now we know where to put new swales.

The pathway between the Mexican bush sage and quail bush became a river. Now we know where to put new swales.

3-6-14 038

Water from the driveway was channeled down to the new veggie bed trenches, and filled them up.

This storm had rain events where it would pour down buckets, and then become heavier and last for much longer than usual.  The last storm of this type was back in December, 2010, which is when I lost chunks of property down into the streambed due to erosion across the property.  Thanks to permaculture methods, the property received very little damage and no serious erosion.

New temporary streams everywhere.

New temporary streams everywhere.  This was a directed overflow from the ponds.

If we had just received what had fallen on our property then we would have captured all of it.  The downpours were so hard and long that we had tens of thousands of gallons of water flowing through from the street.  My daughter and I left just after one of the last ginormous downpours and drove past a brown river running down the street and onto our property.  It not only collected and flowed from other properties, but rain water was flowing from the cross street, Alvarado, down our street, through the neighbor’s property and through ours.  It is amazing that we suffered as little damage as we did.

The large rain catchment basin worked beautifully, percolating well and slowing the flood.

The large rain catchment basin worked beautifully, percolating well and slowing the flood.

The rain catchment basins worked beautifully; the top one filled and percolated down many times, recharging the water table.  Overflow systems worked well to channel water down an overflow pipe and into the streambed below. Water from the driveway was diverted to the long, level trenches we’d dug under our new ‘sunken’ veggie beds, and it worked well.  It was good to see the overflows working, because there was no way in the world to capture the amount of  water that flowed through this property.  Oh, if only I could have!  Let’s see: one inch of water falling in one hour on one acre is almost 27,000 gallons of water.  I have 1.68 acres and we received four inches.  That means that about 181, 440 gallons of water fell directly on my property alone.  I couldn’t begin to calculate how much water flowed onto the property from the street and neighbor’s properties during the heavy rainfall times.  Sigh. I’ll have to keep working on catching more!  I’m water greedy!

The big pond backed up to the cement slab where the cob oven sits!

The big pond backed up to the cement slab where the cob oven sits!

It wasn’t until the last day that water backed up and overflowed the cement channel, effectively removing mulch we’d just laid over plywood and cardboard on the pathways.  One area, notorious for its squidgy clay when wet, emulated quicksand under the layer of mulch (the boot photo at the top).

Plywood that had days before been topped with mulch.  Repair work was time-consuming but not difficult, only we need more mulch!

Plywood that had days before been topped with mulch. Repair work was time-consuming but not difficult, only we need more mulch!

One of the great benefits of the overflow, however, is that it deposited sand and decomposed granite over the heavy clay in the beds.  The storm helped amend the soil in these troublesome areas!

You can see the difference between the sandy silt that once belonged to our neighbors, deposited on the shiny thick clay of our garden bed.  Thanks!

You can see the difference between the sandy silt that once belonged to our neighbors, deposited on the shiny thick clay of our garden bed. Thanks!

In fact, outside of our gate where the street water flows to enter the property a lot of silt accumulated.  We were out there with wheelbarrows today clearing it out and using it.  It is a great mixture of sand, decomposed granite and organic materials!  Beautiful stuff.  We hauled it down the hill and used it to plant potatoes in milk crates, mixed with a little pigeon poo from our generous neighbors.  I had been wondering where I’d be able to get the soil for those crates.  We still have a lot left (more to collect, too, but it is heavy business) for other projects.

Just before the rains we'd covered this area in newspaper topped by mulch.  You can see the river of water behind the tree and the shifted mulch in front.  Strawberry plants under the olive were covered with debris.

Just before the rains we’d covered this area in newspaper topped by mulch. You can see the river of water behind the tree and the shifted mulch in front. Strawberry plants under the olive were covered with debris.

So on top of trying to catch up with the early spring here (did we even have winter??), we’ve been repairing the trails and making the walkways safe for the tours which have begun.  It is a good lesson about where to place more swales and rain catchment basins for the next strange rain event.  Since its March already, I don’t really have to worry about possible flooding for another twelve months or more!

By the end of the four days everything overflowed, but not violently.  Here we have a temporary pond by the Mock Pavilion.

By the end of the four days everything overflowed, but not violently. Here we have a temporary pond by the Mock Pavilion.

The Fine Art of Pleaching or Plashing

 

Pleaching in the sky.

Pleaching in the sky.

My daughter and I pleached today, although I’ve had the pleasure of pleaching before this , and even later.  Pleaching, or its synonym plashing, refers to the interweaving of branches, both live or dead.  Basketry is one form, but more notably is the pleaching of living branches to form secure living fences, buildings or artwork.  The withy (willow) bird hide (a covered place from which to watch birds) is a living building I planted two years ago.  We pleached our withy hide today.  Not many people can say that! (or admit to it).

Pleaching is where stems, usually from two plants, grow together.

Pleaching is where stems, usually from two plants, grow together.

Pleaching can be done on many vigorous trees such as willow, or even fruit trees such as plum.  The branches grow together making separate plants become part of a whole.  The trees then share nutrients and water and can pull what it needs from roots a long distance away.

Curly willow is beautiful on its own.

Curly willow is beautiful on its own.

Pleaching essentially makes many plants into one living organism.  Pleached hedgerows make a living barrier to keep in livestock; pleached trees can be woven into furniture, living artwork, decorative fences, and living trellises.  Pleaching livestock fences was practiced a lot in Europe prior to the invention of barbed wire, and then was forgotten for awhile only to be revived as a form of artistic gardening.

This trunk unfortunately cracked while I pulled on it.  As it is willow, it will heal quickly.  My daughter used the opportunity to put a twig from the next willow through the crack.

This trunk unfortunately cracked while I pulled on it. As it is willow, it will heal quickly. My daughter used the opportunity to put a twig from the next willow through the crack, which will grow over it.

Today I of course, as is my habit, waited until the sun was directly above the area where I was working so that I had to look into it as I worked.  I don’t recommend this, however.  My daughter used a fruit-picking pole to snag some of the taller, whippier branches of the curly willow that make up the withy hide.  I stood on a ladder, squinting, and pulled two branches together.

Me on a ladder reaching over my head to pull two branches together to form a roof.

Me on a ladder reaching over my head to pull two branches together to form a roof.

To insure that you have a good pleach going, it is best to lightly scrape the bark from both pieces just where they are going to meet; something like you see blood brothers do with their hands in the movies, but with no blood involved.

Lightly scraping the bark from both branches where they will meet is important.  Next time I'll use a vegetable peeler, which will allow me better angles.

Lightly scraping the bark from both branches where they will meet is important. Next time I’ll use a vegetable peeler, which will allow me better angles.

Then you make sure the pieces fit snugly, then tie them on.  I’ve use various materials to do this.  Twist-ties hold securely but the wire can eventually girdle the growing branches.  Twine is more difficult to use in that it doesn’t grip the branches well enough for a firm hold, but it will eventually break down, hopefully after the pleach is successful.  This time I used green tree tape.  It grips well, is easy to tie, and will stretch with the growing branches and eventually break.  The green color won’t be noticeable when the willow leafs out, either.

Tying the scraped branches together so they stay put.  They can't move around in the wind or they won't be able to grow together.

Tying the scraped branches together so they stay put. They can’t move around in the wind or they won’t be able to grow together.

As I pleached from the top of the ladder, working overhead while the sun and curly twigs attacked my eyes, my daughter pleached pleasing arches over the ‘windows’ of the hide.

Weaving curly willow can be a twisty challenge.

Weaving curly willow can be a twisty challenge.

The hide looks lopsided because the willows on one side have found sent out roots to drink from the small pond.  With more pleaching, the thirsty trees on the other side will probably take advantage of that water source, too, and have a drink via their overhead connection.  I think it is part of its charm.  A half-wild building.

The withy hide as a duck on the big pond sees it.  The willow is just about to begin leafing out.

The withy hide as a duck on the big pond sees it. The willow is just about to begin leafing out.

Try pleaching a small fence or a living bench or chair.  It is tremendous fun and if you don’t like it, you can always cut it down.  Oh, and work on a cloudy day.

A willow roof.

A willow roof.

More Spores: Planting Garden Giant and Shaggy Mane Mushrooms

Breaking apart the large square of inoculated sawdust.

Breaking apart the large square of inoculated sawdust.

The last scintillating post was about how we distributed oyster mushroom spawn in the straw in our new vegetable garden.  Today we planted more shrooms… but not the last!  “Where will it end?” you cry.  I’m not sure myself; I guess it depends on how well we can grow mushrooms here in the drought-stricken west.  It is the last week in February and we’ve had 70 degree – 90 degree daytime temperatures all month long, and less than a 1/2 inch of rain this year.  This is our rainy season.  Some mushrooms do grow here, although they aren’t very apparent this dry year.  We certainly don’t have the high humidity, frequent rain and acidic loam that characterizes areas such as Northern California and the Pacific northwest where mushrooms are everywhere.

Shaggy Mane spores growing all over the bag.

Shaggy Mane spores growing all over the bag.

I bought two bags of spores, of Giant Mushroom and Shaggy Mane mushrooms, both of which are edible and can stand warmer climates, as long as they are shaded and receive water.  My daughter and I strolled all over the property considering different spots.  There aren’t a lot of areas which are shaded all day, which receive water or are close to water, and where shrooms would be safe from nibbling animals.  We decided upon the small group of old lime trees (and one orange) that are between the fenced backyard and the Fowl Fortress.

Limes look so very pretty, until they draw blood!

Limes look so very pretty, until they draw blood!

I’m not a fan of lime trees.  When I was 11, my parents moved me and my sister to a four-acre lime grove in Vista, CA.  I grew up enjoying the smell of lime blossoms, walking through tens of thousands of bees (pre-Africanization), climbing up the few avocado trees and pretending I was a spy and bad guys were looking for me.  But when I was older I was paid to care for the lime trees.  I became disenchanted.  They are nasty.  Their thorns and small dead twigs scratch and catch, they are often full of ants which are harvesting aphids on the leaves, and they are short trees, so to pick limes or do anything for them you have to duck under the canopy and usually end up losing some hair and bleeding from the thorns.

A group of citrus trees, with logs cut for mushroom inoculation and some old chicken wire that is ready for a hugelkultur burial.

A group of citrus trees, with logs cut for mushroom inoculation and some old chicken wire that is ready for a hugelkultur burial.

So of course as an adult I moved onto property with a lot of lime trees on it.  Limes aren’t very profitable, either.  I keep the trees because I don’t water them yet they thrive, and I don’t believe in killing trees for no reason.  Now their canopy can be put to good use.

We always find some lost treasure from the previous property owner.

We always find some lost treasure from the previous property owner.

I purchased organic mycelium from Paul Stamet’s Fungi Perfecti.  He wrote many books on growing mushrooms and has had startling results using oyster mushrooms for soil remediation and with turkey tail and other mushrooms for fighting cancer and other illnesses.  Mycelium Running is an incredible book.

Clearing a level area under a lime tree.

Clearing a level area under a lime tree.

For the Garden Giant shrooms, we hacked through dead branches and pulled away a lot of red apple iceplant that has slowly been taking over from the neighbor’s property.  We dug about two inches into the ground to help insulate the wood chips that would be placed in there, and watered it in well with what was left of the rain water from our large tank.

Mycelium is already busy around the roots of the lime and ash trees, even in this dry ground.

Mycelium is already busy around the roots of the lime and ash trees, even in this dry ground.

We’d just received a truckload of chipped oak from landscapers, and that was perfect for this variety of mushroom.  We spread out a couple of inches of chips, watered it well, spread the inoculated wood chips on top,

Spreading the mycelium... so many little spores!

Spreading the mycelium… so many little spores!

spread a couple more inches of chips over, mixed them up with our hands to spread the spores throughout the chips, and watered again.  With luck, they should be up in a couple of weeks.

The final Garden Giant bed.

The final Garden Giant bed.

Next to another tree we dug a 3×3 area just an inch down.  Shaggy Mane lives in vegetative compost rather than the highly fungal wood chips, and can live in a variety of stuff.

Vegetative compost mixed with straw and leaves for this long-term mushroom.

Vegetative compost mixed with straw and leaves for this long-term mushroom.

We removed the more composted stuff from our cold compost bin and mixed it with very poopy straw from the chicken coop (thanks, girls!), and ash leaves.  The spores were mixed well into this combination and watered in.

Mixing in Shaggy Mane  spores with the compost.

Mixing in Shaggy Mane spores with the compost.

I topped it with leaves just to help keep the moisture in.  We won’t see production from these until next winter when the temperature drops to below 60 degrees F.  When they do ‘fruit’, as the mushrooms are called, we can add new compost alongside and the spores will creep over for another year’s growth.Planting spores 014

To assist with the moisture I’m going to have the greywater empty along these trees to keep the ground moist and the humidity up.  Also, there are drip lines from the well along here and I think the addition of some above-ground sprayers will handle our watering needs without using domestic water.

The white tables are set under an orange tree, and are where inoculated logs will go.

The white tables are set under an orange tree, and are where inoculated logs will go.

Under the orange tree, which is a fine tree but very neglected and hidden by the vicious lime trees, we decided to set up for our next installment of mushroom growing.  We’ll be drilling holes in oak logs and growing four kinds of shrooms on them.  I’m sure you just can’t wait!

Planting Spores in the Garden

The mycelium is white in the sawdust and ready to go.

The mycelium is white in the sawdust and ready to go.

If you remember the trenching, filling and designing the new veggie patch, then this post will make more sense to you. IMG_4786

The next step was to cardboard the pathways where Bermuda grass has been taking over, then mulch them as well.  The mulch makes it all look so nice!

Covered with mulch, the cardboard is only a memory.

Covered with mulch, the cardboard is only a memory.

Next it was time to plant.  We’d already  transplanted three-year old asparagus, and hopefully not shocked them so much that they won’t produce well this year.  The flavor of fresh asparagus defies description.

Asparagus popping up some feather shoots from its new home.

Asparagus popping up some feather shoots from its new home.

The strawberry bed was older and completely taken over by Bermuda grass, so it all was buried and I purchased new organic and extremely reasonably priced bareroot strawberries.

A bundle of twenty-five strawberries.

A bundle of twenty-five strawberries.

I purchased two June-bearing types and three ever-bearing,  heat-loving types, from www.groworganic.com.  When they bloom this year we’ll have to nip off the buds so that next year when their roots have taken hold and fed the crown, we can have lots of strawberries.

Soaking the  strawberry roots for a few minutes rehydrates  them.

Soaking the strawberry roots for a few minutes rehydrates them.

We planted some in the asparagus bed, which will do nicely as groundcover and moisture retention around the asparagus, while the asparagus keeps the heat off the strawberries.  Some we planted around the rock in the center of the garden.  The rest will be planted around fruit trees as part of their guilds.

Strawberries surround the rock.

Strawberries surround the rock.

 

We also planted rhubarb in the asparagus bed; these poor plants had been raised in the greenhouse for several months awaiting transplanting.

Rhubarb, really eager to be put in the ground.

Rhubarb, really eager to be put in the ground.

Hopefully the asparagus will protect them from the heat. I plan to raise more rhubarb from seed and plant them in other locations on the property, aiming for the coolest spots as they don’t like heat at all.

With a strong knife  (weak blades may snap) cut a cross in wet cardboard the pull aside the edges.

With a strong knife (weak blades may snap) cut a cross in wet cardboard the pull aside the edges.

The way to plant through cardboard is to make sure that it is wet, and using a strong knife make an x through the cardboard.  Use your fingers to pull the sides apart.  Stick your trowel down and pull up a good shovel full of dirt (depending on how deeply your plant needs to go.

Insert a trowel through the hole and scoop out some dirt.

Insert a trowel through the hole and scoop out some dirt.

The base of plants and the crowns of strawberries should all be at soil level.  Seeds usually go down  three times their size; very small seeds may need light to germinate). Gently plant your plant with a handful of good compost, then water it in.  You won’t have to water very often because of the mulch, so check the soil first before watering so that you don’t overwater.

Don't forget to water in the plants!

Don’t forget to water in the plants!

For the first time in years I ordered from the same source Jerusalem artichokes, or Sunchokes as they’ve been marketed.  They are like sunflowers with roots that taste faintly like artichoke.   We planted some of them in one of the quadrants, and the rest will be planted out in the gardens, where the digging of roots won’t disturb surrounding plants.

The oyster mushroom kit, or H.U.G.  You'll have to visit Fungi Perfecti to read up on it.

The oyster mushroom kit, or H.U.G. You’ll have to visit Fungi Perfecti to read up on it.

Most excitingly, we’ve purchased mushroom spores from Fungi Perfecti, which is Paul Stamet’s business, the man who wrote Mycelium Running and several other books about growing mushrooms for food and for health.  We bought inoculated plugs, but that will be another post.  Almost as exciting are the three bags of inoculated sawdust to spread in the garden!  They sell an oyster mushroom that helps digest straw and mulch, while boosting the growth of vegetables and improving the soil.  You also may be able to harvest mushrooms from it!  Talk about a wonderful soil solution, rather than dumping chemical fertilizers on the ground!

We’d already covered our veggie beds with wet cardboard and straw.

Really good soil from what is now a mulched pathway.

Really good soil from what is now a mulched pathway.

To give the mycelium a good foundation I dug up good soil from one of the field beds, which needed an access path through the middle.  By digging out the path I created new water-holding swales, especially when filled with mulch.

We pulled aside the straw.

We pulled aside the straw.

In the veggie garden we raked back the straw and lightly topped the wet cardboard with soil.  On  top of that we sprinkled the inoculated sawdust.

Good soil  over cardboard.

Good soil over cardboard.

On top of that we pulled back the straw and watered it in.

Sprinkling spore-filled  sawdust over the soil.

Sprinkling spore-filled sawdust over the soil.

The fungus will activate on the wet soil, eat through the cardboard to the  layers of mushroom compost and pidgin poo underneath that and help make the heavy clay beneath richer faster.

The fungi will immediately begin to colonize the  wet soil.

The fungi will immediately begin to colonize the wet soil.

 

We treated the two top most beds which have the worst soil, the sunchoke bed and the asparagus bed.  In four to six weeks we may see some flowering of the mushrooms, although the fungus will be working even as I sit here.  There are several reasons why I did this.  One, it is just totally cool.  Secondly, there is no way for me to purchase organic straw.  By growing oyster mushrooms in it, I’m hoping the natural remediation qualities of the oyster fungus will help cleanse the straw as it decomposes.  Oyster mushrooms don’t retain the toxins that they remove from soil and compost, so the mushrooms will still be edible. Fungus will assist rebuilding the soil and give the vegetables a big growing boost.  I know I’ve preached that vegetables like a more bacterial soil rather than fungal.  This is true, except that there are different types of fungus.  If you put wood  chips  in a vegetable bed, you’ll activate other decomposing fungus that will retard the growth of your tender veggies; the same wood chips around trees and woody plants will help them grow.  However these oyster mushrooms will benefit your veggies by quickly  decomposing compost and making the nutrients readily available to the vegetables.  Their hyphae will  help the veggie’s roots in their search for water and nutrients, too.

Straw is over the top and watered.  We can continue to plant in the beds  as the fungus does its magic.

Straw is over the top and watered. We can continue to plant in the beds as the fungus does its magic.

The other two bags of inoculated spores are for shaggy mane and garden giant, which we’ll find homes for in compost under trees.  More on that as we progress.  It is  so nice to be planting, especially since these are perennial plants where the most work is being done now.  Now we just need some rain!