Category Archives: Vegetable Gardens

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Building a Garden for Native Pollinators

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Wool carder bee collecting a ball of plant fibers from a white campion.

As I continue to landscape small areas around the house and barn, I’ve increasingly included places for vegetables, and vegetables, of course, require pollinators. Last year we opened up a grassy hillside to tomato production and I realized how few flowers I had in the area to attract bees. Up by the patio, we are flush with penstemon, viburnum, asters, iris, and an enormous Kolkwitzia amabilis (beauty bush) lush with pink flowers in May. We enjoy visits from all manner of pollinators, from several kinds of bumblebees to mason bees, wool carder bees, wasps, and an assortment of flies, some of which mimic the bees. However, the vegetable garden has always been traditionally that – vegetables.

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Kolkwitzia flowers are much-liked by bumblebees.

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Sequestering vegetables from the more floral elements of the landscape denies them the benefits of the various pollinators available to us. Furthermore, living on a mostly wooded island, we seldom see honeybees and are dependent upon native bees and flies for pollination.

Calendula, peas, and grape vines combine on one trellis.
Calendula, peas, and grape vines combine on one trellis.

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Intent on bringing the show down to the tomatoes and the vegetable garden behind the barn, I’ve begun to plant strips of flowers and herbs. I started with weedy oregano, which grows anywhere, spreads voraciously, and produces clumps of tiny white flowers irresistable to bees and flies. Calendula is another easily-grown plant enjoyed by pollinators, as is the ubiquitous California poppy, which I’ve noticed is favored by yellow-faced bumblebees. I also favor tall purple mallow, daylily, and fox glove for ease of growth. Certainly there are many other less weedy species to consider, but my soil conditions often dictate what I can grow without too much amendment. Catmint, asters, and zinnias are other less rangy choices. I also love my exotic-looking Erigeron yuccifolia (sea holly) which produces little balls of white flowers on tall stalks, and seems to attract the smaller bees and flies.

The Xerces Society website provides lots of information on planting for pollinators, and has a site for submitting photos of bees for identification and mapping. Having once thought that bumblebee referred to a single species, I am now pleasantly surprised at the sheer number of species and have taken to noting which plants attract what species.

A lush perennial garden attracts several species of bumblebees as well as mason bees, wool carder bees, wasps, and other native pollinators such as flies and small beetles.  Cat mint with purple flowers is in the foreground.
A lush perennial garden attracts several species of bumblebees as well as mason bees, wool carder bees, wasps, and other native pollinators such as flies and small beetles. Cat mint with purple flowers is in the foreground.

I’ve even applied my rudimentary carpentry skills to the construction of a mason bee nest from 2x4s. It looks a bit like Trump Tower for bees.

Mason bee nest structure made of 2x4s. Mud plugs show where bees have built nests.
Mason bee nest structure made of 2x4s. Mud plugs show where bees have built nests.

Plant a few fuzzy plants such as Lamb’s ears and campion to bring in the wool carder bees, whose dutiful collection of plant hairs to form little cotton balls for nesting are far more entertaining than most reality tv shows.

 

 

The Two Pound Tomato and Other Stories

Despite my father’s move to a retirement home in spring, and my 1/2 job in Alaska, I have managed to maintain my garden if not my blog.  The best of show goes to Tom and his persistant efforts to keep two vegetable gardens going, mine and his. His won the prize for tomatoes – 130 lbs of them, plus a 2 pound German giant.

And then there were the 130 lbs of delicious roma tomatoes that went into 5 gal of canned tomatoes and sauce.

 

 

From my garden came the currants, red and black, from three of my 7 bushes (3 yrs old) that went to make currant jelly.

 

 

 

And the huckleberry jam from the wild bushes.

 

While I had little time with my Alaska work, I did manage to enjoy the new patio we built last year from discarded slate

 

 

and the wealth of flowers that last year’s efforts produced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since May 2009, I’ve remodeled two gardens and produced three new ones consisting of about 1/2 acre. Next year, my work is cut out for me as I work to finish the Rhododendron Garden, remodel a neglected dry shade garden, and produce a new mound garden with tree and shrubs. Plus I’ve lots of new starts for next season from cuttings, a mine tailing grape arbor, seeds from Alaska, and plans for experimental cement structures, decorative new fences, orchard building, exotic new berries and more. I can hardly wait.

Winter Vegetable Garden

 

I came up with the idea of a winter vegetable garden while nosing about in the old barn where my father had dumped a random assortment of junk, including a box of books from which I’d gradually been extracting all of the most interesting delicacies. I had figured it was time to pack up the rest to donate to the library when I came across a little paperback at the bottom entitled WINTER GARDENING IN THE MARITIME NORTHWEST: COOL SEASON CROPS FOR THE YEAR-ROUND GARDENER by Binda Colebrook (Rev. ed. Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1998). I read it over the period of a few days and was inspired. 

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The barn - a landscaping tale of its own and the site of the winter garden

 To date, I had always associated ‘winter’ and ‘garden’ with a drab mess of slimy plants moldering in the garden by about the beginning of October.  At that point, I would quit weeding and more or less give up hope.  But this book bespoke confidently of the possibility of tasty greens, crispy kales, and tangy beets. It even sounded remotely…cozy: growing and then picking greens in the dead of winter to feed the family fresh salads.  Determined to do it right, I took the rare step of planning my purchases in considerable detail and – not to skimp on just any seeds – I went to an online seed vendor (Nichols Garden Nursery in Salem OR - a most excellent choice for price, selection, and timeliness) and purchased one package each of the following:

CABBAGE – EARLY JERSEY WAKFIELD Heirloom

CORN SALAD – MACHOLONG

KALE – RED RUSSIAN Heirloom

ONION – EVERGREEN HARDY WHITE BUNCHING

RADISH – RELISH CROSS HYBRID

Carefully following the instructions in the book, I then selected the ideal site:  a spot protected from north winds, sunny in the morning, and not in a low area where the cool night air might freeze it.  The solution was a weedy area in front of  the barn-turned-studio where I laid out a simple 10′ x 6′ frame of untreated 2×12′s and added a about a yard of  5-way soil mix and rotted manure from a generous horse owner.  

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The winter garden as of 10/4/09

The seeds arrive in the mail around August 20,  and I had them in the ground by the second week of September. By October 4, they were up and growing strong – the largest leaves in the photo are the radishes, which got a quick start followed by the kale, corn salad, and beets.  In fact, I was rather surprised by the rapid germination, which may have been the result of lingering summer warmth and occasional light rainfall which produced a crop faster than I was able to get in early June (see ‘Yard as Garden’).

This would be a happy tale except that out of the blue, hoofed disaster struck. The goats, with whom I have been fighting a running battle to keep fenced out the yard, escaped as they often do and (sob!) swept through my garden.  The biggest and showiest got their attention, leaving me without radish or kale, unless a miracle happens and these tender annuals can regrow their missing leaves. Apparently goats have a knack for nibbling the tops of things without the tearing motion used by horses and cows that would otherwise uproot the entire plant. Thus, a goat-grazed plant usually retains a skeletal frame of stems without any leaves.  Of course, there is always reseeding and the hope of another quick germination before the frost. That same day, they also razed my new Virginia creeper in a gallon pot, again taking only the leaves.  The warnings of a poison ivy -like rash were unheeded by the goats, who survived with no apparent ill effects.  

In the aftermath of my loss,  I spent the better part of a day and a half repairing the fences necessary to contain the hoofed menaces, but for now must face the startling gaps in my winter garden.

My next challenge will be the frost, which will be coming soon I think. Saturday night was clear and a cold 38 degrees. Realizing the challenge to my carpentry skills, I’m procrastinating for a while before constructing a cold frame of wood and plastic. In the meantime, I’m keeping the goats occupied consuming blackberry leaves and their most favorite food, Douglas fir branches.

Yard as Vegetable Garden

Due to the technical difficulties posed by not being a website designer, I missed a month or two on updates. Still, I when I did get back on, I was pleased to see comments (thank you all!). I hope to be more diligent now in my postings.

In the interim, I completed the wall using scrap rock from the original wall plus whatever else was lying about.  The rock-a-day technique worked well, and without the Bobcat I might add, which, while desperately needed for other projects around here likely would not have worked so well.  Hand-placing the rock was the key, and over the course of about 3 weeks, I was able to create a two-tiered wall now planted with fern and a creeping evening primrose. Money saved on equipment rentals, however, was money spent on massages to relieve the re-emergence of my long-running thoracic outlet syndrome  (http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/thoracic/thoracic.htm).  One saving grace has been my father’s motorized dumping wheelbarrow with an 800 lb capacity. With it, I have already moved several thousand pounds of rock around the yard for a variety of smaller projects. Although I am normally adverse to loud, motorized equipment, it has made my life much easier and saved me many sleepless nights with shooting nerve pain.

 

When I was not moving rocks, I began preparing the front yard.  [At this point, those in the know may feel free to comment upon my methods, which are derived from a combination of experience, book-learning, and educated guesswork.]  From a local farm, I obtained 10 yards of heat-treated horse manure/chips/sand and rototilled it six inches into the sandy clay soil that represents the efforts of one of my father’s past wives. I also reconstructed the walk from the pavers not broken by my father’s excavator excursions to lead visitors through the gazebo and to the front door.  The plan, based upon reading my landscape design books, is to draw visitors away from the kitchen door, which is misplaced on the front of the house, and to the more formal ‘front’ door which leads directly into the living room. The yellow gazebo will be reinforced and painted a warm grey and the cement overlain with tiles. Cement planters with benches will be installed to the right to cordon off a part of the patio for entertaining. A perennial garden in purple and violet tones will grow between the walk and the patio, a lawn to left flanked by a Japanese maple and the neon blue hydrangea. Foundation plantings of red pygmy barberry will flank the reddish brick wall, while to the right of the door, a white azalea and small rhodoendron will provide a visual draw toward the door.a view from the driveway

To the right in the overview photo  is the nascent perennial garden featuring several types of Salvia (my fav genus), Miscanthus, Dianthus, Penstemon, and Hosta in the shade. To the left will be a narrow strip of grass sweeping around the cedar, beneath which will grow a selection of NW natives and shade-tolerant plants, including a grove of sword fern, woodfern, bunchberry, Oregon oxalis, Hellebore, salal, Mitella, and others. I have even added half of a Douglas fir log behind the neon blue hydrangea in which I hope to cultivate licorice fern. (I will be adding a plant list here shortly from the Excel file that I am keeping).

The beans, squash, peas, cucumbers and potatoes, however, are not a part of the long-term plan. Reading about the best time to seed a northwest lawn, I have elected to wait until September to further till and refine the soil for planting grass seed. Meanwhile, I have planted a sward of leguminous crops along with a few other tasty species to add nitrogen and out-compete the weeds. So far, the growth from my early June plantings has exceeded my expectations and yields of snow peas and yellow squash are beginning to outstrip our capacity to eat them. The notable exception is the pole beans, which dominate the scene on tall bamboo frames at seven feet and growing. I believe that the high-nitrogen mix that I applied has encouraged them to grow only leaves, for I am still awaiting the beans to emerge from the lush vegetation.

beans to the left squash to the right

As a break from all of that, I also constructed a modest pool with a foot-high falls.  Ferns and large-leaved plants yet to be chosen will grace the now arid borders. The climbing rose will be leaving the scene too, perhaps to be espaliered on a wall. For now, I have a few Spirea, Japanese blood grass (in pots, so they stay put), Ribes sanguinum, horsetail, Alaska fern, lady fern, sword fern, and a lonely bog rosemary. The story of the pool will follow later, including my experimentation with building techniques for those who might want to try this at home.

eventual overgrowth of veg should cure the green

Now, as the July sun wanes and the August sky is cloudy and threatening rain, I stand back and feel a mixture of pride and concern. It still doesn’t look quite as I’d hoped; I have a substantial budget, but not enough to spend on large numbers of expensive plants. My shopping techniques range from Lowe’s and Home Depot bargains, local nursery 50% off sales, natives from other parts of the property, freebies from volunteer work that I am doing in my horticulture class, and a few splurges for nice, full-price selections.  There are most definitely gaps. Materials are hauled in pickup truck, and the work is solely my own.  I  am beginning to explore the limits of my own 42-year-old body, seasoned as it may be from years of running and hiking, and the natural impatience that I have also exhibited towards things that take more than one year to complete.  I realize once again, that this is an exercise in how things are done, a lesson in the patience of time. Soon enough, September will come and I will be taking two more horticulture classes, and maybe,  just maybe, taking the time to care of myself. I miss yoga, I miss my art, there is a meditation group I want to join.  The rains will buy me time to slow down and savor the slow passage of time as the things that I have begun mature, and new ideas emerge.

 

For additional reading on the progress of the back 10 acres, see “Hinterlands”.