I’ve waited to post about the baby robins because I didn’t want to presume anything or jinx it. But it seems after the mama robin laid three eggs in the nest on our back porch beam, we now have two babies who have feathers and are poking their heads up to be fed. They don’t make a sound, and most of the time they are hiding deep in the nest while the mom and dad go about getting food, or just sitting on top of them resting. When the parents were gone for a bit today, I snatched this “selfie” with my phone over the nest. We mostly try to leave them be and not make a lot of noise on the porch.
While not as photogenic, I also discovered we have tiny tiny tadpoles in the pond. I was lifting some algae with my net, and uncovered a whole group of them. Here is a close-up, but just imagine them about 1/4 inch from head to tail. Apparently they eat algae, so they must be happy where they are. Hurray! I would guess they are tree frog tadpoles, since the tree frogs have been singing, but I couldn’t find any confirmation of that in online searching–we’ll have to wait until they get a bit bigger.
Finally, I planted some kale and lettuce and broccoli seedlings this morning, after adding more compost to raised bed, then using chopped leaves as a mulch. I put netting over them to deter animal neighbors–it doesn’t keep away cabbage moths, but seems to work for groundhogs and squirrels and such. Plant babies finally in the ground!
Wow! It feels like spring is finally here. Last week was a flurry of activity in our yard, and I had the energy to do it! And it was warm and sunny! We had a timeline. On Tuesday, all day I was sifting the remains of the old compost pile, and putting it everywhere–in the new raised bed, on the hugelkultur mound, the asparagus beds, under many of the fruit trees, the old potato patch, and an area near the baby apple trees in which I hope to plant zucchini this year. We have had to sift the compost because roots had worked their way into the pile from the edges, including invasive bittersweet which we do not want to spread around the garden.
The goal was to completely empty the pile, because on Wednesday we were getting a new four cubic yards of composted manure from Wilshore farm. So I finished up Wednesday morning, and Wednesday afternoon we got our delivery. Then Margy and I were using shovels and rakes the rest of the day to slightly move that pile so it was all situated on top of old carpet, with at least a foot of clearance around the edges–so no more roots.
On Thursday morning, I finished up with what was on the edges, and spread the remains over the nearby grassy areas. On Thursday afternoon, Dan from Blue Ox Tree Service was coming to cut down three Norway maples along the fence between us and our neighbors. While we hate to cut down trees, we also have been trying to remove invasive plants, and Norway maples are invasive here. They grow like crazy and spread their seeds everywhere. Both Margy and I each had a moment with those trees earlier, to apologize for needing to cut them down, and thanking them for the shade they had given, and say goodbye. We let them know that their wood would stay in our yard to benefit the other trees in the garden.
It was amazing to watch Dan climb the trees and with a system of ropes and pulleys balance himself on the tree, and cut it from within. We really like Dan, who has delivered free wood chips to our yard many times in past years. He is very tuned into permaculture, and told us he has an arrangement to deliver wood chips to Cultivating Community gardens this summer. In fact, our whole intense timeline of last week was based on the fact that he was going to leave us a pile of wood chips from the trees, and once that pile was there, a truck couldn’t get through to deliver compost where we needed it to be.
So here are our wood chip and compost piles, all set up for soil enhancement and mulching for the season. The area along the fence has opened up to offer more morning sun to the orchard–you can see four somewhat scraggy spruce trees remaining, plus a skinny red maple and oak near the right which will have more room to grow.
Now, the growing season is fully begun. I was amazed that I was able to put in so many hours of outside work each of those days–I am thinking it has something to do with the surging energy of the earth in spring, the warmth of the sun, and also with drinking iced licorice tea while I was working–a great herbal energy booster. I am remembering how exhausted I felt last fall, how much work the garden was during the long summer, and yet, spring brings new excitement and new energy, even to me with my chronic illnesses that can get in the way. May it be that way for you too!
The last few weeks I have been outside a lot, but not writing a lot. I have been adding soil and compost to the hugelkultur mound little by little, and stuffing sod into the sides, but in photos it doesn’t change much. I created a new tool–a screen to sift compost that has become inundated with small roots. It is just two dowels, with a metal screen attached with staples and duct tape, but it fits over the top of the wheelbarrow, and makes it so much easier: I shovel compost from the pile onto the screen, then rub it back and forth with gloved hands to sift out the roots, and the usable compost falls through.
I also put spigots and drain hoses back into six of our rain barrels. They are designed to capture rain from the gutters, fill one barrel, and then overflow into the second barrel, and then overflow through a drain away from the house. The joy of these rain barrels is they can stay out through the winter as long as we remove the spigots and any long hoses. I had to go through the plastic drain hoses and cut off sections that had cracked, but luckily we had enough left to make it work. So I thought they were ready for rain again, but then yesterday as I checked them during our rainstorm, I discovered that one fitting had cracked–we’ll see if I can figure out how to fix that.
Our new mulberry tree from Fedco arrived on Wednesday. Our old one didn’t do well where we had first planted it–too much shade, and then after I transplanted it last year, sadly it didn’t survive. But most of the work was done, because I had prepared such a great bed for it last year–so all I had to do was pull back the mulch, dig a small hole, and place the new baby tree inside. Baby trees aren’t that photogenic, a brown stick with a brown mulch background, so here is a photo of her roots all tangled up and gnarly before I placed her in the hole filled with water. May our tree be blessed in her new home, and provide food for birds and us too!
Two springs ago, as I was preparing for retirement due to chronic illness, Margy bought me an early retirement gift–a hammock. Lately, after working for a while in the garden, I climb into that hammock and rest–so perfect! It feels a bit like laying on the beach in the sun, or floating on the ocean water. I can relax deeply, let go of trying to carry anything or do anything. It has been so healing in this time of existential stress and grief for our world. I rock as if held in the arms of the air, the birds singing, blue sky and greening trees surrounding me, sun warming me. It reminds me that we are held in the embrace of a larger Love, even when we feel so helpless in the face of the troubles that plague our country. May you also find ways to rest your spirit in this beautiful earth!
The esplanade, the former hell strip, is now a thing of beauty, and this small beauty is good for my soul. I finally finished mulching between all of these hardy perennial plants with cardboard and wood chips. The plants are thriving. The tall Heliopsis is in bright yellow full bloom right now, and the purple hued Spiderwort flowers open each morning. (The Siberian Irises have already completed their flowering.)
Thursday, our first daylily blossomed, and there are more to come. In these days of cruelty to children and destruction of so much that we hold dear, I believe it helps to refresh our spirits with the beauty of the earth. Beauty is strength for the struggle.
What a pleasure to finally complete the asparagus beds, along with setting pavers and stones into the area under our outdoor water spigot! With so much always “in process” in the garden, little completions are quite satisfying. That is also true for me in other areas. Yesterday, I finally figured out our financial budget for retirement, and that feels so grounding as well, like I am really retired now.
I blogged about planting the crowns last April, near the walls behind the house and next to the garage. [Here is a picture of the “before” trench behind the house.] The instructions were to let the asparagus plants grow in the trench, and add compost and soil bit by bit as they got taller, keeping at least 2 inches above ground. This was complicated by the fact that some of the plants bolted up in a flash, while others were tiny babies for such a long time–even still.
But last week, with more compost and soil, I finally brought the beds up to level, and then finished them off with a layer of wood chips. In the bed near the garage, I actually created two little pockets with cut out pots for the ones that were still too small, so I could fill the soil around them up to level. They would have been buried! Hopefully, they’ll get enough sun and water to keep growing and come back next year with a flourish.
I also moved our lemon balm plant from near the cherry tree over to the small area just left of the water spigot. It looks and smells so cheerful there, and will be nicely contained for a plant that I learned has a spreading habit.
We are in the season in which life is bursting out all over, even as we can start to feel the shift toward the autumn. Days are shortening, and everything seems to be growing as much as it can. It is amazing to think that all these green plants die back in winter, seal themselves in their roots, and hide as if they didn’t exist at all, only to re-emerge in spring. So now they are making the most of sun and heat and rain, turning sunlight into sugar for all life in the neighborhood. The asparagus will die back too, in the winter, but come to life again in the spring–and we’ll be able to share in their bounty from that season forward. I love perennials!
The last few days I have been working on a garden bed for two future high bush blueberry plants. This was the toughest project so far, in terms of physical stamina. I was following the guideline of Michael Phillips in the Holistic Orchard. His first step is to dig a bed one foot deep and 3-4 feet in diameter per plant, (so for me that meant about 7-8 feet long and 3-4 feet wide).
Once I had dug the hole, I came upon bittersweet roots, so then spent some time strategizing about what to do for that. I eventually decided to clip them off where they emerged, and then line the sides of the hole with cardboard. Since I was also making paths around the bed, I bent the cardboard so that it covered the path as well.
Then, the next steps are to fill the hole with 50% peat moss, 40% soil from that you had taken out, and 10% compost. Peat moss is somewhat controversial (because of environmental questions raised about its extraction), but I did some reading and learned that the percent of peat moss taken in Canada is very tiny compared to the amount of peat moss bogs they have–so in that context it might be considered renewable. I had to go back to the store to get more stuff, because it was hard to estimate how much I would need.
And it is a lot of work to dig out a hole, then fill it with other stuff, and then “stir” it around, which really means turn the soil over and over. I am glad I only have to do it once. So I would do what digging I could, and then stop and rest for most of the day, and return to it in the evening if I could. After the peat moss, soil, & compost mix was in, I added 2 cups elemental sulfur, 4 cups green sand, and 2 cups rock phosphate, all organic nutrients. This whole mix is meant to create the type of soil that blueberries love, with an acid leaning ph, and the nutrients they need. (You may notice that I purchased more composted manure, because we used up our big pile.)
I topped it off with a few inches of pine bark mulch that is also good for blueberries, and then some pine needles that Margy had collected last year. After that, I hauled the rest of the unused sandy soil over to our materials area, and did the paths around the bed with more cardboard and hardwood mulch. And watered all of it well. Now it is all ready to do its own thing for several months: the plan is to plant blueberries in the spring.
Who knew that there were so many kinds of compost? According to Michael Phillips in The Holistic Orchard, tree fruits prefer a fungally dominant compost, which you can get by using lots of leaves and not turning your pile. So that is the kind we’ve accidentally been making at home, since we use lots of leaves and hardly ever turn our pile. Vegetables prefer bacterially dominant compost, which likes to be turned a lot. To quote:
Orchard soils ideally contain a fungal presence ten times higher than that of bacteria…. Fungi respond to surface decomposition, whereas bacteria prefer soil disturbance. We are building a fungal duff of organic matter where the biological action desired is going to take place. Compost, deciduous wood chips, seaweed, and raked leaves can be added atop [the soil.]
So, last fall, when we spread the wood chips from the old maple tree, we were beginning to create this fungal duff. Margy topped the wood chips with cut grass and seaweed and leaves. But when we planted the cherry trees, we had to dig a big hole, so all of that was disturbed, and we put regular compost as part of the soil back fill in the holes; I guess that is not actually recommended so much.
I also learned that the type of mulch matters. Margy had arranged for us to get some free wood mulch, (hurray!) which turned out to be from evergreen trees. She had put some of that mulch, along with straw, around the newly planted cherry trees. But I learned, in The Holistic Orchard, that fruit trees especially love mulch made from wood chips from deciduous trees–most particularly “ramial” wood chips made from twig wood less than 7 centimeters in diameter–because that contains soluble lignins. The evergreen mulch actually contains compounds that suppress other plant growth. Who knew?
So the very next day, I went out and moved that evergreen mulch away, and dug up some of the starting-to-decompose deciduous wood & leaves mulch, piling it up in a six-foot diameter circle around each tree, careful to leave open space around the trunks themselves. Next time, Margy can ask our wood chip supplier to save us some of the ramial chips.
All this to say, we just got 4 yards of compost delivered today from Wilshire Farm, composted manure to be exact, which we hope to use for creating growing medium for companion plants for the trees, some surface feeding for the trees, and for Sylvia’s herb garden.
I learned about The Holistic Orchard and Wilshire Farm from a workshop on fruit trees by Aaron Parker of Edgewood Nursery, held at the Resilience Hub. It all seems much more complicated than just planting a tree and getting fruit a few years later. I am trying to take it one or two steps at a time.