Hey there folks, long time no post! Things here have been alternately cold, gray, stormy, and depressing, and lovely and warm and sunny and crazy busy and productive. Thusly, I have either been too bummed or too busy to post.
The good news is that thus far, the weatherman hasn’t been quite as wrong about the overnight lows as he was that one, fateful night on April 14th. So, no frosts… at least not yet. As we move forward, our chances lessen, but hey… you never know. The weather here has been anything but predictable. For the last few days, we have had 10 minutes of sun, followed by 10 of torrential rain, then crazy, howling wind pushes the black clouds away and it’s bright and sunny again… then suddenly there’s hail or thunder and lightning… then calm… then wind… you get the picture. Quite the unsettled spring weather we’re having. Tonight a cold front has moved in and is passing through the area during the night hours. It is currently 43.2 on the outside of a sheltered window of my house… which means it’s really a bit colder out in the open night air. Hopefully the predicted rain will show up, though, and the trusty raincloud blanket will do its job of keeping the heat in.
To report on the tomatoes, even though it’s been rather chilly lately, when the sun does come out, it is very warm, and the agribon keeps it nice and toasty in my boxes. And so, the tomatoes are growing, despite the temperatures. There are still some that are single, sad green stumps with no new growth… but they’re not dead either. The rest all have various amounts of new growth and two or three are almost as big and leafy as they were when I planted them out. An interesting thing to note is that a higher percentage of the tomatoes that I planted in our 18-inch-deep box faired better than the ones in the 12-inch-deep one. When we built our raised beds in winter 2008/9, we made two that are 18-inches deep and four that are 12-inches deep. Last year, the tomatoes planted in the 12-inch box did much, much better than the ones in the 18-inch box. But this year, it is the opposite, though I’m using two entirely different boxes than last year, so who knows. I note it here in case I want to look back and remember. I don’t know if the depths truly matter much either way.
No, Lisa! Not More Projects! It Couldn’t Be!!
Ah, but it is. Just when you thought I couldn’t possibly have more projects, I sneak a new one in to surprise you. Keeps you on your toes.
A funny story, this one. I was on facebook last week, which is weird in and of itself, as I am not a facebook user in the slightest, when one of the annoying sidebar ads caught my eye. It said something like, “want to grow the best garden in town with almost no work?!” and it had a nifty little picture of abundant, lush, green plants in a row.
“Why, yes I would, Mr. Annoying Sidebar Ad,” said Lisa. “I really would!!”
“Then learn to grow a strawbale garden,” it whispered alluringly.
I hesitated. I don’t click online ads. Never, ever, ever do I click them.
“Just one little click,” the ad murmured.
I always assume they have some sort of sinister motive – that they will take me immediately to some virus- or spyware-installing website, or that they will somehow immediately steal my identity and charged $35,000 to my credit card for magazines in Korea (laugh not – that really happened to my mom – twice), or, at the very least, the advertised company or product will be a total scam.
But, boy did I want to learn to grow the best garden in town with almost no work! After arguing with myself for an unreasonably long period of time, I bit the bullet. I clicked. What’s the worst that could happen? I’ll watch my credit card and cancel it if need be. It’s worth it. And I have myself a trusty, live-in computer geek to kindly remove any and all viruses and spyware that I may pick up along the way. This ad promised too much to resist. I had to know.
After all that, it was pretty anti-climactic. It took me to a website that promised to teach me all about the wonders and special secrets of strawbale gardening for just $19,95! A scam. I knew it. Hey, at least my credit card was safe. But while I was there, I read the little teaser, which turned out to be pretty interesting. Ever the resourceful lass, I immediately closed that site and simply googled, “strawbale gardening,” and it returned a wealth of *free* information. It was love at first sight.
In a nutshell, a decomposing bale of straw apparently provides an ideal rooting environment for annual plants, like vegetables. Plus, they are instant raised beds… no building, no weeding, no shoveling or raking. It’s a beautiful thing. So, what you do is get yourself some straw bales and set them out where you want to grow your garden. You can arrange them in blocks, lines, open squares, any way you’d like. Then you wet them down. Soak them through with the hose (or rain, as I have been using for the most part) and feed them some nitrogen. Any kind of all-N fertilizer will do. I used bloodmeal, because it’s organic and I already had plenty on hand. The N gets the decomposition going ASAP – bacteria, mold, fungi, worms, and bugs all start going to town on the insides, creating a moist and nutritious rooting medium. I’ve read different recommendations, but the general idea is that you give a heavy dose of N the first 2-3 days, and then half as much for 2-3 more days, and then you just keep them wet and let them cook. Just like in compost, the initial decomp will generate quite a bit of heat, and then it will cool and slow down. This should take 7-10 days. When the internal temp is less than 100 degrees F, then you can plant your plants or seeds.
I have recently discovered a local wonderland of happiness and joy that is called, Naomi’s Organic Farm Supply. They are a dream come true for me in many ways that I don’t have time to discuss now, but one thing in particular is that they have organic straw! So, last Wednesday, I drove down to Portland and picked up my first 6 bales. I lined them up in the orchard, sprinkled on a healthy helping of bloodmeal (1/2 cup per bale), and watered ’em down. Then on Saturday I picked up my next six bales and did the same. I have been applying nitrogen and water to the lot since then, and yesterday the internal temp (yes, that’s my cooking thermometer) on my first six bales was as high as 91. Today (no pic), I found 97.6, despite the 49-degree temp, cold rain, and gale-force winds at the time. So, things are coming along nicely.
And so this wondrous discovery has been the answer to all my questions – specifically, where am I going to plant the 26 varieties of pumpkins, 20 varieties of melons, and 12 extra tomato plants that have vexed me until now? What? Does that sound excessive? I think not. These are important things. And in my time of need, the straw bale garden has come to my aid. When the temps get back down under 100, I will put a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost and garden soil on top of each bale, and I will plant the seeds in that. Happily, the heat that will still be emanating up from the interiors of the bales will gently warm the soil and seeds, just like my indoor germination mats, which should speed up the process considerably.
And that’s it. No tilling, building, hauling, shoveling, weeding, fencing, protecting. Just insta-gardens. The bales will last 1-2 year each, and then will turn into piles of lovely and useful compost/mulch which, if left in place, will improve the soil there, or can be used as mulch for the fruit trees or raised beds. It’s a win-win-win-win-win-win situation (was that too many wins?), if I do say so myself. The only catches are that you do need to feed them regularly – you must water in liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion every 1-2 weeks since the straw will have low nutrient content, and the straw dries out quickly in warm weather, so you must water more often. That’s what soaker hoses are for. Also, you do need ample space for this. A single bale is 4 1/2 feet long and can only grow 2 squash plants or 2 tomatoes or 3-4 peppers or eggplants.
For me, I plan to do mostly pumpkins and melons in the strawbales and let the vines sprawl through the orchard between the trees. It’s so much better than having the huge vines trail out of the raised beds and into the pathways and over and through the other veggie plants. Right now, I have 12 bales, but I’d like another 6 or 12… and I may very well stick some of my extra tomatoes in there if the need arises.
Enough of that for now. Much more later.
Other Garden News
I tried to get a picture of this and failed. That, friends, is a baby apple. I think it might really stick this year. This one is definitely fertilized and turning into an apple. Let’s just hope it hangs on. It has a few friends that could possibly become fruit too, but they are not as happy and round as this one. It is on my Silken apple tree. The Ellison’s Orange also has flowers on it and could potentially set fruit, but it is too early to tell. My Corail apple did not have a single flower, so no fruit there, but it is happy and healthy with lots of green leaves.
The rest of the orchard report at the beginning of their second season here, is as follows:
– both pear trees seem to have died. One set out early green leaves and then suddenly stopped and died. The other never did anything this spring. Sad. It was probably the harsh winter. Sad, sad, sad. But let’s not dwell.
– the cherry trees are the biggest success. Both sour cherries – Montmorency and English Morello have tons of flowers and are starting to set fruit and look lovely and healthy. The Sweetheart sweet cherry tree also looks ravishing and is full of flowers and is setting fruit. The Hartland sweet cherry has some sort of issue – it started to leaf out and bud up this spring, and then the top 2/3 of the tree stopped and turned brown and crispy. The bottom two branches continued as normal and have healthy flowers and leaves at this time.
– both plum trees and both apricot trees are happy and healthy but only put out a couple of flowers and I don’t think we’ll get any fruit at all.
– both peach trees started out well with lots of flowers and new leaves, but now they both have peach leaf curl. I am not please since both varieties were sold to me as naturally resistant to curl, which is important in my area. I guess “resistant” doesn’t mean “immune.” I will, sadly, have to spray with copper this winter when they are dormant if I want to save them. Sad.
A Social Outcast
And last but not least, we have the poor baby. She (I hope I hope)has been growing like a weed and holding her own when out grazing with everyone. Sometimes they pick on her, but she gives them sass right back. Yesterday, she chased Pol Pot out of “her” baby coop and got a beakful of Pol Pot’s butt feathers as a souvenir. Then she went right up to a rooster and pecked him twice on the neck while he was bothering Sofia, before running off to a safe distance. After that, she got in a henfight with Shelley, complete with jumping and flapping and clawing (Shelley started it). So it seemed to me that she was ready to hold her own. I mean, she’ll be 13 weeks tomorrow, she’s nearly as tall as her mom, and she looked able to fend for herself. They’ve gotta make the transition to the big coop sooner or later. Lately, 13 and Sofia have been wandering into the big coop with everyone else and I have been watching them in there and they have mostly been fine. Rory has tried to murder the baby a couple of times, but it has ended quickly with no more damage than a few lost feathers.
So, yesterday afternoon, we closed them in the run of the big coop with the rest of the flock. Brian and I stayed out there doing garden work for a while afterward and monitored the progress. The baby kept standing in the corner and starting longingly at her baby coop, but that was the worst of it. Then I went inside to take a shower. Afterward, I went out to check and everything was still peaceful, though the baby was still looking at her old home. So then I left Brian to tend the farm and I went to my farewell dinner with my favorite sushi chef of all time (he’s leaving Portland never to return and I am a sad Lisa). After a bit, I texted Brian to check on the baby since it was getting dark out. She needed to go into the big coop to go to sleep, and I knew this would be the biggest challenge. His eventual reply was, “Chickens were mean – i brought her inside to garage… perhaps u come back to nurture.” Then a few minutes later, “Repeat please come home asap… baby is hurt.”
So, I got myself together and headed home and called Brian on the way. He said he found the poor baby out in the cold on an outdoor perch, trying to sleep, with blood all over her head. Sofia didn’t give a rat’s ass and was inside sleeping all toasty with the rest of the flock like she never had a baby. Guess she’s done with the mothering gig.
I got home and went straight into the garage to see her. It wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined, but it still wasn’t nice. I picked her up and held her a while, as she was just standing there in her makeshift bed of a towel in a box, stunned. I checked the headwound and it was just superficial – a big clump of feathers had been pulled out and it bled a bit. When Rory has attacked her in the past, she’s always grabbed those same feathers on the back of her head, so I’m assuming she’s the culprit. She is more or less hen #1 around these parts anyway. She’s also rather mean to Daisy Mae, Lady B, Pippin, and Pol Pot on a regular basis… but I digress. My assessment of the situation was that there wasn’t much for us to do and that she’ be happier in her own house than in the garage, and so I carried her back out, put her in the baby coop, got Sofia out of the big coop and put her in with Thirteen, gave them fresh food and water, and went to bed hoping my diagnosis of a superficial wound was accurate.
This morning, we awoke to torrential rain and a fresh-faced Thirteen. She popped her head out the door to see me just like nothing had ever happened. So, she’s a little wiser but no worse for the wear. And we’re back to ground zero with the flock integration. What to do? My next plan is to put her into the big coop, up on a perch, along with Sofia, at night when everyone is sleeping and let them wake up together. This could be a complete disaster, though, as I could come out to a murdered baby in the morning. Any thoughts?