Idea capture

I just had what I think might be a great idea, and I feel excited and energized by figuring it out.

This is good because I’ve been feeling not very interested in, hopeful about, or excited by anything at all, which is always a worrisome place to be if you have ever suffered a past major depression episode. You find yourself wondering, “Is this a normal stress/grief response to a pile-up of loss in an isolating time of general stress due to a basically unchecked pandemic and its fall out, or am I about to get taken down by a black wave of depression?”

I’m not big on raised beds for various reasons, but largely because I don’t care to source the amount of soil needed to fill them.

But, this gardening season I have faced some challenges and had some realizations:

  • I have the garden design taste of someone with a much larger budget for garden maintenance staff than I have (which is none). I can deal with a messy tangle of things ok, but what really pleases my eye and soul is structure and order and neatness. It is always a relief when I plant in the well-defined areas I’ve already established as beds.
  • Having random chickens and a wild turkey around make so much extra work in the garden. If I want mulch to stay on an area, I have to fence it in with at least a 6″ high chicken wire barrier so the chickens can’t kick the mulch out.
  • The chickens and Lurkey really like to eat any sprout or fruit, so I have also spent a lot of time creating taller fence barriers and covering tomato plants with netting. I put 2-foot tall fencing around the blackberry-and-strawberry patch bed to protect some of the fruit from these birds.
  • The guinea fowl are much less likely to eat seedlings or scratch a whole bed up, but do have a proclivity for creating dust wallows in inconvenient areas and trampling things while they chase each other around the yard.
  • Making individual cages to put around seedlings is time consuming and annoying and, if you forget to remove them in time, can be a problem later.
  • All the fences and netting make it difficult to get at the plants inside them to harvest, weed, or remove pests. I need to sit or kneel on the ground to do this kind of work, due to a hip problem that prevents much bending, so even a low fence blocks my reach.
  • Cabbage worms decimating my collards and kale, squash borers and bugs, etc. I have read that insect barrier over the plants can be a helpful deterrent.

So I had been pondering several questions:

  • What can I do to introduce a more structured look to planting areas without hiring a hardscaper?
  • How to install insect barrier securely, especially as crop
  • Is there a way to make easily removable poultry-blocking fence panels that I can remove and replace quickly and easily as I am maintaining beds?
Photo on page 86 of The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, by Niki Jabbour

The above photo sparked my idea!

My idea is to build modular low bed frames with 2x4s with the dimensions all evenly divisible by 2-feet. (4×4′, 4×8′, etc.)

The key thing would be to install on the outside edges, at regular intervals (every 2′) pipe straps or some other hardware. The purpose of these would be so I could easily slide in/out fence panels created by attaching a length of dowel or pvc tubing to each end of  a 2′ length of fencing. Or, if I needed a row cover, to secure the ends of a bent-over longer piece of pvc tubing.

The low beds would create visual structure and some mulch containment without requiring any significant fill soil. They could also possibly be moved around if I decided to redesign an area.

The fencing attached on the outside of 2x4s would not be very strong, but I think it would stand up ok and be a deterrent to yard birds. For some extra stability, I’m sure there’s some kind of clip I could use to attach each panel to the next.

Creating the fence panels would be time consuming and annoying but is easy enough to articulate that I have options for finding help with it. And having a plan to deal with this moving forward feels less annoying than the ongoing jury-rigged solutions that make maintenance more difficult.

I don’t know if this will really work, but it’s worth trying a prototype, maybe later this fall of into winter when there are less pressing tasks at hand. (And fewer biting bugs!)

It is nice to feel the brain clicking into plan-experiment-solve mode again, rather than just feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.

A week

This morning there was a 5.1 magnitude earthquake ~109 miles to the west.

Definitely felt it.

Earlier in the week, a hurricane passed through. Luckily for me it was just a lot of rain here.

Also, a death in the family, and a COVID-19 scare.

No wonder I’m tired.

Six from Saturday

I do not seem to be capable of composing a blog post after everything else on a Saturday.

1. Campanulastrum americanum

Wintersown last winter. This native plant can behave as an annual or a biennial. I didn’t fully expect this to bloom until next year. Interestingly, the two that are sending up big flowering spikes were among the second wave I planted out in spring. All of the first wave and some of the second are still just foliage rosettes.

Campanula americana (Tall Bellflower or American Bellflower)

2. Agarista populifolia, now in a trash bag

I bought this lovely native shrub from N.C. Botanical Garden plant sale last fall. It was a really good fit for a very shady area. I enjoyed its gracefully arcing, interestingly colored foliage all winter and beyond.

Unfortunately I did not realize this plant produces grayanotoxin I. This is the same toxin produced by rhododendrons and azaleas, which I knew not to plant because I have goats. (And also because azaleas are gaudy as hell)

I don’t have a regular escape-goat problem, but it does and will happen occasionally. On July 19 the goats broke through a gate. My tiny Delilah ate at least one branch of this plant. The next morning she would not eat her breakfast and was scouring. She hung on for two weeks with lots of supportive care. A couple of times she seemed to be pulling through, but she ultimately died overnight last Sunday/Monday.

I ripped this shrub out yesterday and feel horrible about everything related to it.

Agarista populifolia, very unfortunately browsed by a small goat who died two weeks later

3. Working goats

Since Delilah got sick I’ve been afraid to put Gimlet, Toddy, and Emerson anywhere other than their primary pasture.

But, I got goats to help eat brush, so I needed to be able to put them back to work eventually.

Yesterday I took a deep breath and put them in this privet, wild grape, honeysuckle, greenbrier, and poison ivy infested spot.

Gimlet,Toddy, and Emerson at work

4. Celosia argentea var. cristata ‘Tornado Red’

Self-sown volunteers this year. I wish they were more a deep red than a magenta, but I still love them.

Celosia argentea var. cristata ‘Tornado Red’

5. A view

This is such a crappy photo but it captures a view I’ve been enjoying. I like the punctuation-like structural effect of growing indeterminate tomatoes pruned and staked. This is my first year trying it and they do need more attention/care (and netting to protect the fruits from chickens/turkey), but they sure are easier to harvest and are not a sprawling monstrous heap going everywhere. I’m afraid I really do prefer a mostly neat, controlled looking garden, but lack the staff to maintain one! I was considering taking out the irises because their flowers are a disappointing sad old-dishrag-yellow, but I really do appreciate the textural contribution of their lovely leaves all summer. Butternut squash rambling everywhere in the foreground. The asparagus patch creates a nice, soft, smoky backdrop.

View toward Squash Mountain, through tomatoes

6. Spalding Labs Fly Predators, second shipment

A month and a half or so ago the flies were getting out of control and so annoying.

I’ve noticed a definite decrease in flies since putting out my first shipment of these guys. But it is a whole summer-long regimen to break the fly lifecycle and keep populations down. So this is batch two, which, unlike batch one, smelled like dirty socks. Whatever.

Spalding Labs Fly Predators

Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator.