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!

The Sunken Bed Project… Finis!

 

Maybe they can see this from space?

Maybe they can see this from space?

To take up where we left off in this exciting saga, we had the hugelkultur trenches buried, the pattern outlined in gypsum, and a boulder moved.  On top of the beds I spread the cleanings of a pigeon coop, courtesy of our good friends and neighbors who raise and rescue  many pigeons.

Pigeon poo and coop gleanings all over the garden beds.  Yum!

Pigeon poo and coop gleanings all over the garden beds. Yum!

The high nitrogen poo, feathers, and leftover pigeon peas and other food items will make a wonderful breakfast for microbes. On top of that I spread a  pickup truck bed full of mushroom compost.  Jacob was nice enough to clean out his truck and help me get a load.  The nearby mushroom farm  raises shiitake and button mushrooms  on  logs of compressed sawdust.  This is a high fungal compost, and slightly acidic.  Since we have a  high alkaline soil, this is okay.

The garden beds covered with mushroom compost.

The garden beds covered with mushroom compost.

After the compost begins to make its final decomposition, the worms  thrive in it.  I managed to wheelbarrow down the entire load and spread it just before we had the first rain event of the year…less than 1/4″, but enough to give the garden a small  soaking.

Cardboard is on all the garden beds.  How nice to clean up all that  cardboard and newspaper that we've been collecting!

Cardboard is on all the garden beds. How nice to clean up all that cardboard and newspaper that we’ve been collecting!

Today my daughter and I started in on the final treatment.  We covered all the beds with cardboard, and all the pathways with newspaper.  This thin layer will hold in moisture, and help retard the growth of the dreaded  Bermuda grass.

Spreading damp newspaper on the pathways.

Spreading damp newspaper on the pathways.

I’m really hoping so, anyway.  Another small storm was blowing in for tonight, scattering our newspapers although we wet them down thoroughly.  We’re still using water from the 700-gallon tank that catches water from the house’s raingutters.  We’re trying to use some up so that fresh water can enter the tank with  this storm.

Watering down the newspaper with rainwater from the tank to keep the wind from undoing all our work, and starting the decomposition process.

Watering down the newspaper with rainwater from the tank to keep the wind from undoing all our work, and starting the decomposition process.

Although we were both very tired and getting cold, we needed to cover the paper.  I hauled down about fifteen wheelbarrows full of mulch; this had been dumped in the driveway courtesy a landscaper with a chipper.  Miranda spread the mulch over all the pathways, which looked just great.

Paths covered in mulch.

Paths covered in mulch.

We almost stopped there, but I was driven to finish this project today.  We pitchforked used straw from out of the Fowl Fortress, broke open some other bales, and mulched the garden beds heavily with the straw.  And…. we’re done!  Yipee!  The rain tonight will give it all a good soak, and soon we can  begin planting in our snazzy new garden beds.

The beds covered in straw!  Hurray!

The beds covered in straw! Hurray!

I admit that I thought the beds would look more sunken, but with three 2′ deep x 30′ long trenches underneath there is a lot of underground moisture for the topsoil to absorb.  Also the beds are below the pathways, but with the height of the cardboard and straw they don’t look it.  With the garden on a slope we had to make some adjustments.

The next exciting project that we’ve already begun working on is growing mushrooms!  Stay tuned.

The Sunken Bed Project, Part 3

The un-raised bed as of this morning.

The un-raised bed as of this morning.

Today my daughter and I made good headway in the completion of the garden.  In the morning the bed still had some veggies that needed transplanting, the ground needed smoothing, the giant clumps of asparagus plants we’d hauled out needed to be planted right away because they were already trying to come out of dormancy, and we certainly didn’t want to lose this spring’s crop.

Transplanting and some fine-tuning by the girls.

Transplanting and some fine-tuning by the girls.

We let the girls loose since we were watching out for coyotes.  They loved the grubs and unfortunately, the valuable worms too.  Lark, the barred rock  in the foreground, was up to her old tricks of jumping onto my shovel and quickly kicking half the dirt off  in search of bugs.  Miranda painstakingly dug up lots of salad greens for transplanting.  We both dug up and pulled out lots of Bermuda grass as we went.  The trash cans are full of it.

The difference between the heavy clay and the good garden soil is striking.

The difference between the heavy clay and the good garden soil is striking.

While digging those 2 foot deep trenches we unearthed a lot of clay.  On the surface the colors of what had been good garden soil next to what lay under it was very clear.  With the deep hugelkultur beds and the sheetmulching, all this clay will be turned into microbial  rich soil.

We measured off and marked the pathways and beds with gypsum.

We measured off and marked the pathways and beds with gypsum.

Finally we were able to measure off and draw out the design of the garden.  We used gypsum which is good for the soil. So many people  use spray paint to mark the ground… just don’t!  Toxic fumes and toxic chemicals in the soil.  If you don’t have gypsum, use  flour!  The light is bright in the above photo so you can’t see the design so well.  We had carefully drawn out several designs on graph paper.  An intricate Celtic design was the most favorable one until I’d realized the garden wasn’t square but rectangular. It was just as well because it would have been a nightmare of measuring.  This one has 2′ wide pathways from prime entry angles (a wheelbarrow  can fit), each planter bed is easily reached from all sides, and the circular design is pleasing and fun.

There was this rock....

There was this rock….

There was a big  flaw in the plan.  There was this boulder that had been placed during the original construction of the garden.  It didn’t serve a purpose, it was always in the way, it was a shelter for Bermuda grass, and it wasn’t attractive.  Now it was at the head of one of the pathways.  It had to go.  My daughter and I decided to move it to the center of the garden.  After transplanting the heavy batches of asparagus, we dug out a hole for the rock to sit in; when placing boulders it is visually more attractive if the boulder  is buried at least a quarter of its size into the ground to look natural.  We placed wet newspapers around the hole so that the boulder would sit on them and they would block Bermuda grass from emerging.

One of the methods used to move the rock, and build up good bone density and muscle.

One of the methods used to move the rock, and build up good bone density and muscle.

 

Although the garden was sloped down from the boulder, the rock wasn’t  round and didn’t want to roll.  We dug out a pathway for it, and using a long crowbar and a digging bar we managed to turn it over.  We pushed and heaved and balanced  and flipped it until it was right at the rim of the hole, and then things became difficult because it wasn’t positioned in the way we wanted it.  The rock has a flat side, and is long.  Miranda suggested that the tall side should stand up for birds to perch on, and I liked the Half-Dome look to it.  We heaved the rock into the hole, then walked it around, tipped it up, centered  it, and eased it into place, using the bars and  all of our strength.  Luckily the boulder didn’t roll on a foot, or the bar slip and break my collarbone.  Finally we tiredly decided that the position it was in was good enough and we were both happy.  Exhaustion had much to do with this decision.  Miranda propped it up with clay chunks as I held it in place with the digging bar, then backfilled around it.  It looks fantastic; a good central point for the garden, and a source of thermal retention.

The rock  in place, gathering positive cosmic forces  and good karma.  At least, I hope so.

The rock in place, gathering positive cosmic forces and good karma. At least, I hope so.

We messed up some of our pathway lines, but we can easily redraw them.  The sun was setting and the mosquitoes humming; the Pacific chorus frogs began calling by the hundreds, and the wigeon came in to feed on the pond.  There were still chores and dinner to be had, but exhausted as we were, we were pretty darn proud of ourselves for moving that big guy by ourselves.  Next comes the sheet mulch.

A Maxfield Parrish sunset.

A Maxfield Parrish sunset.