The Visitor

Woodchuck hiding under woodpile

Our neighbor mentioned this little woodchuck (aka groundhog) had eaten her flowers when she planted them, and now she or he has been visiting our yard.  When we saw him the other day through the side window, he was eating something in the grass between our two houses.  I went outside to take a photo and he lumbered over to hide below the neighbors woodpile.  So cute.  But the next morning, some of my kale plants had been eaten. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Ever since we’ve been planting trees and making new garden beds, we’ve had many more birds and other critters come into the yard.  So mostly that is a wonderful thing.  But we are hoping to grow food!  So I will be searching the internet for natural ways to repel them.  Have any good ideas?

Woodchuck

 

Permablitz!

We just found out that we were chosen to be a Permablitz site this season, on June 24!  Permablitzes are organized by the Resilience Hub in Portland, and as described on their website:

Permablitzes are essentially the mother of all work parties, permaculture-style.  With permablitz events we tap into our own local “barn raising” ethos to help each other install edible landscapes, renewable energy, water collection systems and more all in one day.

Our hopes are to install several rain barrels, create a frog pond and a fire circle, maybe help with our bittersweet control, and do more soil enhancements and aeration.  We think of these as structural components of our garden, and it is also suggested by permaculture experts to do any earth shaping projects near the start of your work–the frog pond is in that category.   Also, depending on where we are in our planting process, we might get help with sheet mulching and plantings for our cherry tree guilds, and Sylvia’s herb garden.  Our friend Sylvia, who helped us plant our cherry trees, has studied herbal healing.  She doesn’t have land where she lives, so we invited her to create an herb garden here at our home.  We are so excited about this collaboration!

I have been to several Permablitz work parties over the last few years, and while there is a great benefit to hosting a Permablitz, there is also a lot of benefit to participating as a worker. Along with the joy of helping someone’s garden grow, I have learned a little more each time about the principles of permaculture, about strategies for water collection, about soil health, about growing gardens in general, about ideas for edible landscapes that I might never have heard about.  It is also a lovely way to meet folks who care about the earth, and our relationship to it.  So if you will be in Portland on June 24th, you are invited to come to our  Permablitz.  When the event is posted with all the details, I’ll share it.

Permaculture Design, Phase OneThis is a section of our evolving Permaculture Design for our yard.  (It didn’t really work to try to put the whole design into one photo, so this is of the half of the yard nearest the house.) I had started this design by measuring everything in our yard and putting them on grid paper–the grids equate to 3 feet square.  Then we had lots more input with our Intro to Permaculture Design class, and a conversation afterward with the leaders, Heather and Julie.

Last weekend, I went back to the original, and filled in some trees that were already on our land, and then began adding the design elements that are among our first steps in the plan.  I added color!  I haven’t drawn in all of our future ideas.  We are growing our garden slowly, so that we can learn what we need to learn as we go, and not take on more than we can handle right now.  (I am thinking of taking this design and making copies on which to draw our speculations for future ideas.)  I also haven’t yet drawn in Sylvia’ herb garden, which will be near the ornamental cherries, but she hasn’t determined the configuration yet.

I love the design part of the process, and while I sit in the back yard, I am always getting new ideas about where future plants might go.  Blueberries, hazelnuts, apple trees… and then I step back and breathe, and let myself go slow, and enjoy.  Because every step of this process has been such a joy!

Planting the Cherry Trees

Today was the perfect day to plant our cherry trees, May Day Eve.  I had figured out the locations, and marked them the day before.  Our friend Sylvia came to help with strength and muscles.  She dug the holes!  Thanks, Sylvia!

Our friend Mihku had given us compost from her garden (Thanks, Mihku!) and we realized we needed even more, so Margy drove to buy some, while Sylvia and I positioned the first tree.  I applied mycorrhizal inoculant to the roots (from the wisdom of Mihku), while Sylvia held the tree.  Then we filled in what we could.

Cherry Planting Hands in Dirt

[Photo by Margy Dowzer]

When Margy returned, she took photos while Sylvia and I finished filling the hole with compost and dirt.  I placed the Lapins Cherry closest to the patio, and the Black Tartorian Cherry about twelve feet beyond. We discovered the soil under the Black Tartorian was darker and richer, so we used some of that to fill the first hole too.

It felt so good to have my hands in the dirt, to give good energy and nutrients to these young beings that will live with us in our home.  It also felt good to have help from a younger stronger friend, my aging body just not able to do as much physical labor as I used to do.  It felt really good to share the process, to create a celebration of earth and sun and soil and friendship and the fertility of the land.

More photos:Sylvia starts digging

Myke & Sylvia – Version 2

[Photo by Margy Dowzer]

Cherry Trees in the Ground

Sylvia and Margy

Plant Swap

Yesterday, Margy and I participated in the annual plant swap at the Resilience Hub.  We didn’t have plants to swap, but Margy gathered seaweed to bring, and I made some grain-free, sugar-free cherry brownies to share.  We were able to get lots of plants we need for our cherry tree polycultures–plants that we will place around the trees that help the trees to thrive and also have benefits for us.  Back at home, I put them in pots and set up a little “nursery” area near our water spigot, for them to live until we are ready to put them in the ground.

Plant Nursery – Version 2Some of the plants and their functions:

  1. chives–use in a ring around the base of the tree to deter pests, attract pollinators, provide anti-fungal support (cherry trees are prone to fungal issues), plus herbs for eating
  2. comfrey–draw up nutrients from deep in the ground, attract pollinators and beneficial insects, cut the leaves to create mulch, and use for herbal healing
  3. rhubarb–more mulch, and delicious eating
  4. oregano–aromatic pest confuser, anti-fungal, can handle foot traffic when harvesting cherries, and cooking herb
  5. thyme–aromatic, one of my favorite herbs for cooking and health
  6. chamomile–anti-fungal , attract beneficial insects, draw up nutrients
  7. lupine–nitrogen fixer
  8. kale seedlings–especially as the tree is growing, to use the space for growing my favorite vegetable.

We also plan to plant daffodils around the drip line, to deter pests, attract pollinators and have beauty; plant the perennial seakale for good eating, maybe some asparagus; and sow white clover in the spaces between other things, as a nitrogen fixer.

The plant swap was a lot of fun, meeting other permaculture gardeners, and learning more about some plants that I didn’t know about.  I also met someone who was using my book for teaching classes at her Quaker meeting. How great is that?

Plant Swap

Cherry Trees

Cherry Trees in potsOn Friday the 21st, Margy, our friend Mihku, and I went to Broadway Gardens and picked out two sweet cherry trees.  Mihku is a master gardener and her help was invaluable–in fact, the sales person suggested she should have a job sitting with their trees and telling people about them.

We purchase a Lapins semi-dwarf and a Black Tartarian semi-dwarf. The Lapins will self-pollinate, but the Black Tartarian needs another tree, such as the Lapins, to pollinate.   I thought about just getting the Lapins, but it seemed like they would enjoy having each other for company.  So it is beginning.  Our little permaculture garden in our back yard.  Starting with one of our favorite fruits–sweet cherries.

I have been sick for a few weeks with this horrible respiratory virus/flu going around, and really haven’t had energy to do much but keep work at church afloat–so no blogging, no gardening, not even taking my morning walk most days–it just triggers too much coughing.  So getting the cherry trees really perked me up.  We will plant them this coming weekend.  Mihku suggested that we need to get some mycorrhizal inoculant for the roots, some compost from her yard, and then train the branches with props to help them widen out while they are still pliable.  The semi-dwarfs can grow to 15-18 feet high, and we want to keep them more like 11-13 feet.  I will post more pictures as we plant.

In the meantime, getting back to the blog today is cheering me up too, though I am still not feeling great.  But today is the New Moon, and this blogging is one way to remember the beings and values closest to my heart.  May this day bring joy and sweetness to you too.

Intro to Permaculture Design

IPD courseOn March 11 and 25th, Margy and I hosted two sessions of an “Intro to Permaculture Design” course, through the Resilience Hub in Portland. Two trainers, Julie and Heather, along with about 7 others came to our house for two Saturdays, for presentation and conversation about Permaculture Design Principles.  Our being the hosts meant that we used our land as the practice site for exploring the principles and how one might put them into practice.  Despite the bitter cold one day, and deep snow the next time, we went outside for part of the time and wandered around the yard checking out things like the patterns found in nature, the movement of water and wind and wildlife, the path of the sun.

IPD outside observationsOne of the first aspects of Permaculture Design is observation, and so Margy and I have spent the first year of our residence here mostly in observation–trying to learn everything we can about the land, before we begin gardening.  Having another group of eyes was marvelous!

I had participated in a full Permaculture Design Course six years ago, so the ideas were not new to me, but I have noticed that each time I hear them again, they sink a little deeper, and I gain more understanding.  Permaculture is a design process, looking at the hopes and visions of the human inhabitants in conversation with the needs and conditions of the land itself.  What I am finally beginning to better understand, however, are how the fundamental teachings of Nature might influence our own hopes and visions.

The week after the course, I finally read cover-to-cover Gaia’s Garden, by Toby Hemenway.  Permaculture, at its heart, is about working with Nature, using the principles found in Nature, to create beautiful abundant gardens that can provide food as well as building up the soil, offering habitat to beneficial insects and birds, and creating backyard ecosystems by “assembling communities of plants that can work cooperatively.”

The part that is most exciting to me right now is moving away from the common practice of having separate garden beds for vegetables in one place, fruit trees in another place, etc., and moving into the vision that these functions can be interwoven–that a fruit tree can be the central element in a group of plants working together, with a few veggies tucked in, and herbs, and flowers, all in one mini-ecosystem.  And that this kind of garden might be built one mini-ecosytem at a time.  Cherries, anyone?

 

 

Water for Future Gardens

Garden SpigotToday a plumber installed a new outdoor spigot at our house. The old one was buried behind the steps to the deck, close to the driveway, and not at all handy for future garden watering. This one is on the other side of the deck, close to where we are imaging planting fruit trees and other food crops. It makes me happy to see it there, all ready to use.

Before we installed it the spigot, we had to research what material to use for the piping–copper, PVC or PEX.  We chose copper because the PVC varieties and PEX piping seem more hazardous with leaching that puts chemicals into the water. This article was very helpful.  Since this spigot will be watering our food, we want it to be as non-toxic as possible.

Submeter

Submeter

It is also attached to a submeter we purchased from the Portland Water District. Our sewer bills are computed based on the volume of our water usage, and with a submeter, the water that is going into the ground (rather than the sewer) won’t be used to compute the sewer bill.  So spending the money for the submeter now should eventually save us money in the long run.  Now all we have to do is contact the city for an inspection, and we’ll be good to go.

(Except we won’t be planting gardens until next year.)