The Cover Crops

garden-ready-for-winter

The garden, mostly ready for winter.

The cover crops have sprouted in our raised beds! We planted four different types of crops to see how they do this winter and to see what kind of difference they might make with our soil in the spring. We planted Crimson Clover, Hairy Vetch, Austrian Winter Peas, and Buckwheat. A fun experiment!


UPDATE: November 24, 2016…  The “Buckwheat” seeds we planted were definitely NOT Buckwheat! The package of seeds must have been mislabeled, and in my inexperience, I didn’t know what buckwheat seeds should look like. Now that the seeds have sprouted, we realized the mistake and think we planted winter rye instead. Here’s a close-up photo of the sprouted seeds…if you know for sure what they are, please let me know!

not-buckwheat

Pleasant Months

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“If it is true that one of the greatest pleasures of gardening lies in looking forward, then the planning of next year’s beds and borders must be one of the most agreeable occupations in the gardener’s calendar.  This should make October and November particularly pleasant months, for then we may begin to clear our borders, to cut down those sodden and untidy stalks, to dig up and increase our plants, and to move them to other positions where they will show up to greater effect.  People who are not gardeners always say that the bare beds of winter are uninteresting; gardeners know better, and take even a certain pleasure in the neatness of the newly dug, bare, brown earth.”
–   Vita Sackville-West

Autumnal Equinox in the Garden

This summer I watched a free online gardening class by Stacey Murphy of BK Farmyards. She’s a wonderful teacher and gardener, and I took copious notes as I watched her 4 video lessons. I learned a lot! She opens up these classes every so often, and they are well worth waiting for! She also has a number of very helpful mini-lessons on YouTube. Check them out here.

One thing she discussed in her lessons was that planting in the right place is crucial to your success in growing vegetables and herbs. She suggested drawing a site map (bird’s eye view) of your garden site, and then “observing shadows” so that you can actually see how much sun and shade hits your growing area throughout the year. Her suggestion was to take photos of your garden 4 times a year — on the solstice and equinox days. Take the photos every three hours and then record the shadows on your site drawing using a different colored pencil for each time of year. At the end of the year, you will know exactly what the lighting conditions are of your chosen garden site, and then can choose the vegetables that would grow best in that amount of light. It’s a wonderful idea and an excellent way to help choose your garden site or get to know your existing garden.

So I started this learning process by taking photos of our garden at the Autumnal Equinox a few weeks ago. I used the panorama setting on my phone, and took the photos over 2 days because I wasn’t home all day on the equinox. I will do the same thing in December, and then March and June next year. It should be very interesting to see the actual amount of sunlight on our garden versus what I THINK is the amount of sunlight there. And you can probably tell from the photos below that the reason the last of my tomatoes are having a hard time ripening is because there’s not enough sunlight and warmth left for them!

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Summer’s End

end-of-summer-garden

End-of-Summer garden

It’s been awhile since I last posted anything on this blog although I’ve taken many photos of the garden during the weeks away from writing and posting. I’d like to fill in that blogging gap with those photos and some stories of things that have happened in the garden, so I’ll be doing some catch-up posts today.

This morning, as I write, it is gray and rainy outside–very Fall-like. Summer is definitely over, but October always has many pretty days to enjoy, and I look forward to my fall activities in the garden. Reflecting on my summer in the garden… I learned a lot this growing season and enjoyed my gardening time! Among my successes was my Triangle Garden full of Zinnias. Many people passing by have stopped to tell me how much they’ve enjoyed it. One admirer was a little girl walking by with her mother. She got so excited when she saw all the flowers, and her excitement was the best compliment I could imagine, so I clipped a handful of zinnias for her to carry home. We were both thrilled!

Another success this summer was my tomato garden box. In April, I took a gardening class at Farmington Gardens on planting a vegetable garden. I put to use the things I learned in that class about tomatoes, and I had a much better tomato crop this year than last. I had to chuckle as I sat in class taking notes and realizing that I had done everything wrong last year with planting and caring for my tomatoes, which was why I had such a poor crop. But I still got tomatoes last year, so I was excited to try again, with my new knowledge, and see what happened. I wasn’t disappointed! There are still tomatoes on the vines, although they’re slower to ripen at this point because there’s not as much light and warmth, but we’ve enjoyed the variety of tomatoes and other veggies in our summer salads.

Saying goodbye to Summer was harder for me this year because it was such a nice summer! But I love Autumn, and will enjoy my seasonal gardening tasks of cleaning up, planting cover crops and fall veggies.

The Triangle Garden Revisited

Triangle1

Our driveway is at an angle from the street. When we decided to place our vegetable garden on the west side of our house (where we get the most sun), we made that angled driveway part of the design. Hubby built the nine 4 x 4 raised beds for the veggies and placed them in a grid pattern parallel to the house and the sidewalk, leaving plenty of walk space between them. That left a big triangle between the garden and the driveway.

This Spring I decided to honor the triangle by filling it with flowers. I ordered seeds for Zahara Zinnias after seeing a display of them at Farmington Gardens last Fall. They were so beautiful and different from zinnias I had seen before, so I planted masses of them…much closer together than the instructions on the seed packet said to do. Then I watered them and waited. I was not disappointed! They are quite beautiful, the bees like them, and they add a lot of color to our veggie garden!

Thinning Out

Wire to the garage

We have an overplanted corner spot in our yard. It’s between the house and the garage, and gets a nice amount of light, not too much and not too little. The previous owners cleared it out and planted two Japanese Maple trees, two rhododendrons, and two azaleas all in that one small space. (They also planted a mass of early spring bulbs, which I love love love when February and March come around.) Unfortunately, the 2 and 2 and 2 plantings have grown so much they overwhelm the spot! All thrived and have crowded each other practically to death! The two rhododendrons at the back suffered the most. So we put “thin out that area” on our project list, which will also include removing one of the Japanese Maples which was planted way too close to the house.

The task of thinning out that area got moved up on our priority list this week when my husband discovered that the electrical wire from the house to the old detached garage was buried [illegally] behind the two rhododendrons. So he had to dig that wire out, and then rewire the garage correctly. Big job!

As a result, the two rhododendrons are gone now. We didn’t try to relocate them because they looked so awful after being crowded into the back of that space. The azaleas will stay where they are, and will do much better this year by having more space and air around them! We still can’t quite bring ourselves to remove the Maple that is planted way too close to the house. Perhaps next week. But the space looks so much better cleared out, and will end up being a very nice flower bed beneath the one tree when the project is complete. Overplanting mistakes are very easy to make, so thinning things out is good!

My Poor Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle

We’ve just survived four days of 100 degree heat here in the greater Portland area. Today was cool with rain, but our poor Gold Flame Honeysuckle looks awful! I think it got cooked, or sunburned, and I’m hoping we don’t lose it! I watered it each morning during the hot spell, but that kind of  intense heat is very unusual for this area and especially for this time of the year, so the entire yard suffered. We usually get a few days of 100 in July or August. Anyway, I’ve watered it deeply and will keep my fingers crossed that it survives. And if any of you know what I can do to help it, please let me know!

Kitchen Garden

06.07.16 Kitchen Garden

Our kitchen garden today…

Our house is 106 years old. The oak trees that were planted when the neighborhood was young tower over us and shade much of the yard. The west side of the house has the most sunshine so that is where we are building our kitchen garden.

Building it is an ongoing project! We started two years ago when my husband built the first of the raised bed boxes. Our soil is mostly clay with rocks and many tree roots, so we decided not to try to put the garden in the ground. For that limited space, we designed a square garden with nine 4 x 4 boxes knowing that it would take time to build the boxes, double-dig down for each box before putting in a better soil mix. Progress toward the finished project would be slow, but we decided to just enjoy it each step of the way. By Fall two years ago, hubby was able to finish 6 of the boxes and we brought in soil for each one of them. They were ready for spring planting.

So when Spring came last year, we planted our first garden boxes. That first summer of the garden was a “grand experiment” for each member of the family! None of us knew much about what we were doing, but we knew we would learn as we go along!  Grandboy and his Dad chose their box and planted a fun mix of everything including peas, pumpkins, Cosmos, and a sunflower! Daughter chose the middle box and claiming not to have a green thumb she planted flowers instead of veggies (they were gorgeous and got lots of compliments from passers-by). Hubby planted pumpkins, green onions, and bok choi in his box but unfortunately all three crops failed. I planted tomatoes and peppers in my boxes. It was a good beginning for beginners, and a great learning experience for us all. (I’ll post at a later date about what I learned about growing tomatoes!)

By the Fall, hubby had also finished the last three boxes so we filled them with dirt and planted Crimson Clover as a cover crop for the winter. This Spring, we planted our second kitchen garden. Son and Grandson planted some beans in their box. Daughter planted strawberries where the flowers had been last year, and then she planted pumpkins in two other boxes and squash in another. Husband planted some tomatoes that he started from seed indoors, and I planted my beloved tomatoes and peppers and also started my herb box. We also bought 5 half-barrels to put along the north border of this little garden and planted blueberries.

So our garden for this season is planted and growing. Despite the intense heat of the last few days (very unusual for this time of year here!), the garden is doing well. And we are learning more and more each day about vegetable gardening and about being good stewards of the land!

Garden Reading: Beatrix Potter

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Stormy November morning…

What to do on a stormy November weekend? I’m going to enjoy reading Marta McDowell‘s book, Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places that Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales. I also downloaded onto my Kindle, Beatrix Potter Complete Tales, because I’ve only read some of her lovely tales, but not all, and I thought it would be fun to read them as I learn about her gardening life. So storm away, November! I’ll be hunkered down with Beatrix Potter and another one of Marta McDowell’s wonderful books about writers and their gardens!