Opossum sighting

Opossum

The photo came out a little blurry, but I was delighted to catch a glimpse of this little opossum neighbor, while I was sitting in the screen tent a few mornings ago. When it saw me, it speeded up its walk near the underbrush at the back corner of our yard. I understand that opossums eat ticks, among many other things, so I was glad to see it our neighborhood.

Reading more about them, I learned that they can also eat food from bird feeders and fruit trees.  They are nocturnal.  It will be an interesting balancing act–we intend to grow food for ourselves, yet we also love the critters that show up in this space we share. But perhaps that is the heart of the question–how do we live as neighbors in this land, rather than colonizers/occupiers/dominators?  How do we care for our own needs, while also caring for the needs of other beings on this earth?

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Hummingbirds?

Hummingbird Feeder

Margy got a new hummingbird feeder for us!  I put it up today, plus our old one too, attached to opposite sides of the beams on our new roof on the deck.  I hope we aren’t too late to catch the migration–we used to put out the feeders when the viburnum near our door (in North Yarmouth) started blossoming, the first week of May.  We’re still figuring out the best timing for here in Portland.  I’ll let you know when we see any.

In the meantime, lots of watering to do, and I also divided some comfrey and some oregano to take to the Plant Swap tomorrow at the Resilience Hub.  Last year we got all of the companion plants we needed for our cherry trees.  The comfrey and oregano seem like basically fool-proof plants, and grew abundantly in the food forest.  So I was confident enough to take some out to share.  This year, I hope to find some kale seedlings, perhaps, and just see what might be there.  Maybe elderberry starts?  It has been a beautiful day in the garden.

Hummingbird Feeder small

Pruning

Cherry Tree prunedFriday and Saturday I pruned and trained our young fruit trees.  I did a lot of research beforehand, because it seemed so sad to actually cut them at all.  But the Holistic Orchard book, and most other resources suggest that pruning helps them to grow into a shape that gives them enough support and sunlight for fruit.

Of course, after the research, I realized it might have been better to prune the cherries more drastically last summer, when we first planted them.  But all we have is now.  Here is a photo of the Black Tartarian Cherry with its central leader cut at the top–to promote another tier of scaffolding (outward facing) branches.  The small bud near the top should grow into another central leader.   If I didn’t cut the top, the next outward facing branches would have grown too high up on the leader.

Next, I cut the ends of the first tier of scaffold branches, because they were too long and leggy and uneven.  On this cherry, they are also rather low to the ground, but the only way to remedy that would be to cut them all off, and I couldn’t do that.  I tied them back to encourage them to grow at a better angle to the central leader.  I did this for both cherry trees.  (We had also done this last summer, and took off the ties for the winter)

I also pruned our new young apple tree by making a heading cut on its central leader to promote scaffold branch growth.  For the peach, I did a more drastic cut on the central leader, to create a “vase” shape, where there is no central leader, but four or five main branches, which is the form most recommended for peaches.  Some sources recommend that for cherries too, but we had started with a central leader form last year.  After I was done with all this cutting, I said a prayer to the trees–I am so new at this, that I barely know what I am doing–so please forgive me for that, and grow and thrive anyway!

Funny to think that plants can thrive by being cut back so drastically.  Is there a message in that for humans too?  That the most difficult experiences of our life can shape us for greater beauty and fruitfulness to come?

I took a cut branch with cherry blossoms from the Lapins Cherry, and put it in a cup of water on our deck.  Maybe the bees will still want to visit them.  For now, it is a sign of the years to come, when we can let the flowers bloom and hope for fruit.Cherry Blossoms

The (Future) Pond

the future pond after rain

With all the excitement about the rain barrels toppling, I didn’t get a chance to share this other effect of the big rain storm:  our future pond actually looked like a pond (with a little island) on Tuesday.  I only had time last summer to dig up the grass and top soil for most of its surface, meanwhile using that soil in our new annual veggie bed.  This is the slow project–bit by bit digging and removing soil (and putting it someplace else) until the pond is as deep as it needs to be–a few feet in the center, with a foot deep shelf at the edges for plants.  Eventually, we’ll use a pond liner.  The water was gone by the next day.

Planting Peas

Planting peas

Friday, March 30, on the day before the full moon, I planted 32 sugar snap peas in the garden bed that I created last fall.  It seems early, but the ground was workable, and I set up the string trellis for them to climb, and re-attached the rain barrels near the back of the garage to make it easy to water them.  (And today it is raining!)  We’ll see how they do.  I will plant more a couple weeks later so that we get peas ripening in stages.  And we’ll add lettuce and carrots and spinach which like to grow with peas, and maybe other things too.  Last year I focused on perennials, but this will be an annual bed.

We noticed last spring that this area was free of snow before other parts of the yard, and got some good sun.  In permaculture, observation always comes first!  So we put this spot into our plan for a veggie bed.  Then, as I was starting to dig out the pond late last summer, I needed to put that top soil somewhere.  So I laid down cardboard over the grass in this spot, and then added layers of soil with compost and grass clippings and other amendments to create a raised bed.  There is still a long ways to go before the pond will be done–who knows how many more raised beds it will inspire?

By the way, that long black hose you can see in the photo is an overflow from the rain barrels, and eventually will be attached to another length of hose to be the water source for our pond.

 

Too much water, too little water

I have been thinking about the flooding in Houston, and all the other devastating ways the planet is adapting to our carbon in the air, with changing weather patterns, intense storms, different water patterns.  Thankfully, my sister and other family members in the Houston area are safe.  Meanwhile, we have drought here in Maine.  It hasn’t rained for over ten days. I don’t have answers for what to do about the new reality of flooding in our land, but I thought I could talk about what we are doing to address drought here in Maine.

So, last week, we were able to finish the rest of our rain barrels!   One of the useful aspects of rain barrels is to preserve water in the landscape to be able to weather the ups and downs of water flow.  We now have rain barrels gathering the run-off from each roof on our land.

IMG_2823

The final rain barrel is finished!

Measure the downspoutI want to post about the learning session that Dave led on the 23rd to finish our rain barrels and teach a few of us more about how to install rain barrels.  I will talk today about how to attach the barrels to the downspouts of our gutters.  Once the rain barrels themselves are positioned, you can measure and mark the downspout about 8 to 12″ above the top of the barrel.

Unscrew the downspout attachment

 

 

Then remove the downspout by unscrewing the fastening screws on the wall and to the gutter.  Once those are unfastened, you can pull the vertical downspout apart from the connectors to the gutter.

Unscrew the connector

 

 

The fun part is cutting the downspout itself to the right length with tin snips, using both right-handed and left-handed snips.  (Right handed are red-handled, and left are green.) The basic idea is to mark the downspout with a pencil line all around, and be aware of the part you are going to keep, and the other part which will not be part of the finished downspout (the scrap side–but you can save it for other uses.)  Then punch a hole with the point of the snips near your line, but in the scrap side, and start cutting around the marked line.  But, also, about an inch further into the scrap side, you start another cut, so that you can work both those cuts at the same time.  It makes it easier to go round the downspout.  If you are right-handed, you use the right hand snip for your “good” cut, and the other snip for the helping cut.  This picture shows a left-handed person making the good cut.  As you go around the pipe you can cut off that little strip so it doesn’t get in your way.Cutting the downspout

Once the downspout is cut, you reattached it to the gutter, and reattach the screws, or make new ones as needed to attach it to the wall.  Then, attach a plastic downspout extension piece that you can buy at a hardware store in large or small sizes, and position it to end over your rain barrel  (see first picture).  Hurray!

 

Oh!!!!

Digger ProblemI had a revelation!  I have been thinking I was having a tug of war with a groundhog, because despite the fact that I had been using a very potent deterrent liquid, each morning I would discover this mess around my cherry tree beds.  But no more plants were being eaten.  So what to do?  I did more research and discovered that the mess in my garden was likely not caused by a groundhog at all.  Because the digger is nocturnal, and groundhogs are not.

Rather, it is likely a skunk (who is a nocturnal digger) is rooting in the mulch for the grubs of Japanese beetles.  And then I realized that the rooting appeared about the same time as the Japanese beetles on the cherry tree leaves (which I have been picking off and dumping in soapy water).  So I don’t really have a digger problem, I have a grub problem.  In fact, the skunk is helping get rid of the Japanese beetles.  But I’ve ordered some Milky Spore disease to inoculate the soil to create a more permanent and organic solution to the Japanese beetle problem and that will eventually deal with the digger problem.

I learn so much every week about gardening, usually through problems.  But I haven’t seen the groundhog lately!  (Knock on wood chips.)  Thank you, skunk!