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.

On garden design as a skill (I don’t have)

Recently I’ve had a few nice moments where I was able to see my yard/garden as it is, rather than as a to-do list or just a work in progress. There are areas of it that look really beautiful, and appreciating them is highly satisfying.

I’ve also heard from a couple of people praising my “eye for garden design.” Which, ok, I will openly accept compliments about areas of my garden looking beautiful. But. I don’t have any garden design skills.

I have some level of aphantasia, or lack of internal mental imagery. It’s not absolute—I can briefly imagine the eye shape or smile or hair outline of a loved one, but I cannot assemble those pieces into a whole picture of the person and “see them” in my mind’s eye. And any pieces I do get a glimpse of dissolve quickly, like the part of my brain that generates them is a battery that won’t hold a charge.

I also have pretty bad spatial recognition skills, which is why I have no clue how big anything is without literally measuring it.

What this means in my garden is that it is all a mad experiment and a surprise! Some of it just happens to work, which is helped by the fact that plants are just lovely in general.

You start with a seed that is tiny, and information that it should become a plant of a certain size within some period of time. When it’s time to plant out the seedlings, the final size is still all potential—there is nothing to measure. I can and do look at plant photos online and in books but in those media, a photo of a tiny plant can be the same size as a tree, so grasping the comparative scale of things is virtually impossible. Earlier on, I tried to measure out all my planting spaces and leave plenty of room, but that leaves things looking sparse and sad for so long, and invariably something messes up the plan—one plant dies, or a storm knocks half a plant over so that it starts growing only in one direction, etc.

Then you add in the appearance of the plant—its habit, its color, the color of its flowers, how gracefully (or not) it enters winter, and so on. I can’t hold all that in my head at all, much less visualize it in combination with a bunch of other plants.

What is clear to me reading or listening to people who have real garden design skills (hey, Piet Oudolf) is that they are able to simultaneously overlay space/size, color, and chronological information layers in their mind and see what the result will be in their mind’s eye.

That is just never going to happen for me. My garden is less ‘designed’ and more ‘experimentally scattered.’ I’m coming around to feeling more comfortable with that, which means deciding where to plant things is a bit less stressful. If I accept that I’m probably getting it wrong, then anything that looks pleasing is a very happy accident. And, as I get more experience and familiarity with different plants, my intuition about what will probably work well together will definitely improve. But I’ll never be able to do garden “design.”

I was scolded by the HVAC repair guy for the rosemary plant that is too close to the outside unit. Well, when I planted that rosemary, it wasn’t too close.

On the list today: severely prune that rosemary, and look into whether moving a rosemary is a thing that is at all possible.

Six from Saturday: native grasses update edition

It’s too far into Sunday to do Six on Saturday, but that’s not going to stop me. And all the photos here were taken yesterday, on Saturday. I was just too beat by coming-inside time to do anything with them.

First a little catch up, then a grass-heavy set of pics.

One of my pumpkin plants was suddenly very dead. I identified squash vine borer damage. I pulled out the entire section of stem and set it on fire. I thought maybe I could do this without burning the whole burn-pile, but all the holly trimmings made that impossible. Well, the upside is I was able to clean up the tall weeds around the burn pile afterward, and that corner of the place now looks a lot more tidy.

I finally got a handful of ripe blueberries that Lurkey can’t reach, my blackberry patch is looking weirdly scraggly and sad, I harvested two more cucumbers, and noticed that some tomatoes have started to form. 99% certain Lurkey is going to steal all the tomatoes he can reach, as well.

1. Under-tree clean up

The growth habit of Juniperus virginiana (Eastern red cedar) is so annoying. The branches bend downward like they are inviting the poison ivy, smilax (greenbriar), wild grape, Ailanthus altissima runners, and honeysuckle to climb on up. And if you try to go underneath to clean stuff up, you are likely to get poked in the eye by myriad bare sticks pointing downward from all the branches. I got super frustrated with this yesterday, and pruned off all the lower branches I could reach and get my loppers around. Then I cut and/or pulled out all the Ailanthus altissima runners I saw that were not completely surrounded by poison ivy. And I directly applied glyphosate to said poison ivy so I can come back later and get those runners. Pretty sure I will be breaking out in urushiol rash within a few days, despite scrubbing myself off multiple times with a rag and Joy dish soap twice during the process.

How I probably got poison ivy exposure yesterday.

2. Emerson wearing Elderflowers

Emerson ducked under an Elder tree and got accessorized on his way to the small fenced area`

3. Cinnamon Chicken in the Heimia salicifolia patch

I expected these shrubs (started from seed in spring 2019) to grow faster this year. They’ve really only started taking off in the last couple of weeks, and I need to do some trimming to encourage branching out. Last year’s seed starting theme was “Meeting new-to-me medicine plants,” and the Heimia salicifolia was part of that theme, along with Leonurus leonotis, Leonurus cardiaca, Prunella vulgaris, and Silene capensis. Missouri Botanical Garden on Heimia salicifolia:

Foliage of this shrub has been used medicinally and psychoactively dating back to the time of the Aztecs. Shamans continue to use this plant today. Leaves can be used dry or fresh for preparation of a tea (sinicuichi) which reportedly causes euphoric, time/place altered, muscle-relaxed and anti-inflammatory effects. Dried leaves are sometime smoked in cigarette form. Sinicuichi usage reportedly causes vision to become yellow tinted, hence the sometimes used common name of sun opener for this shrub. Notwithstanding some of the bizarre effects reportedly experienced by using sincuichi, this plant may be legally purchased, grown and used as an ornamental or otherwise in all 50 states.

Cinnamon Chicken keeping a sharp eye out for bugs in the Heimia salicifolia patch.

4. Elymus hystrix

The theme of this year’s seed starting was native plants, with a sub-theme of native grasses and sedges. Elymus hystrix was included in my NC Botanical Garden member seed packs, easily and quickly germinated, and looks happy around the back of the lily/peony bed. These were the last grass seeds received and the first to be planted out!

Elymus hystrix from this year’s NC Botanical Garden member seed packets doing well (with bonus Lurkey feather)

5. Sorghastrum nutans ‘Indian Steel’ and Panicum virgatum ‘Blue Giants’

Next I planted Sorghastrum nutans ‘Indian Steel’ (right) out around the bronze-foliage and yellow flower area next to the driveway. This grass will be blue-green until it turns yellow. It puts up tan-yellow flower panicles, which then turn bronze and persist into winter. I’m not sure about the timing of these colors in this area, but we will see.

Next in line was the Panicum virgatum ‘Blue Giants’, which should be very tall and silvery blue if all goes well. I had a very hard time deciding where to put these because of the size (and I gather it’s quite difficult to get rid of some of these grasses if you decide you don’t like the placement). I decided on two general areas: southeast corner of the house, and in a layer around the Guinea Fowl Spa.

Left: Panicum virgatum ‘Blue Giants’ just getting established. Right: Sorghastrum nutans ‘Indian Steel’ a month and a half farther along

6. Eragrostis elliotti

Last-planted, as a multi-day row of storms was thundering up on me. I think some of it got drowned, but what remains is starting to stand up strong and look happy.

The two sedges I started from seed are still in their winter-sowing containers. More keep popping up in there, and now we’re in a brutally hot time for planting, so hopefully they’ll be ok hanging out until a bit later.

Eragrostis elliottii just getting settled in front of Echinacea purpurea.

Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator, and you can see all the other, less tardy, participants for this week here.

First harvest

Lurkey is getting all the blueberries and many of the blackberries.

I’ve gotten some random blackberries and some strawberries, but here is the first thing harvested from seeds started this season: a “Straight-8” cucumber.

First harvest of the season: Straight-8 cucumber

Smart goats!

I mean, I knew that goats were smart. It’s obvious. Christian Nawroth’s research (and that of others) continues to prove it.

But my goats recently surprised me. Let me tell you the story.

The goat shed gives the four Nigerian Dwarf goats access to the large pasture. (Large here is relative—the whole property is ~1.25 acres!) There is a small fenced area on the other side of the house from the goat shed that I haven’t done anything with, so when the weather is nice I move the goats over there.

My initial method of moving the goats there and back was:

  • Tether Emerson and Delilah (siblings who *freak out*—especially Delilah—when separated) in the goat shed.
  • Attach leashes to Gimlet’s and Toddy’s collars.
  • Open the gate on the front of the goat shed and run like hell, being half-dragged by two goats across my yard to the smaller fenced area.
  • Tether Gimlet and Toddy to fence posts.
  • Return to goat shed for Emerson and Delilah and repeat mad run.
  • Close fenced area gate, let Emerson and Delilah off leash, and untether Gimlet and Toddy.
  • Sneak out of fenced area gate (which only opens in one direction, and it’s the wrong direction for dealing with goats)

So, I had a bad fall in some mud on one of these mad runs back in the early spring and it kind of scared me. At some point I have to take getting older and the increased fragility from certain conditions seriously and start acting like it, right? Sigh.

At that point I modified the above procedure to move one goat at a time. I would start with Gimlet first and put him back last, because he is better than the others about walking on a leash.

And that was some better, but ye gods, for being so small, these goats are freakishly strong, and the three who are not moved first are Highly Motivated to re-form the herd, and they run FAST. Then I got a repetitive stress injury in my elbow (due to something else unrelated), and tried to move the goats using only one arm, and I decided this was all ridiculous. I could not continue letting goats drag me around in a dangerous manner.

The goats must learn to walk in a calm, controlled way between their enclosures!

Cue laughter

The first time I moved them after deciding this, I had treats in my pocket. As soon as a goat began to rush ahead, pulling on the leash, I just dropped to the ground and sat there until they quit pulling at the leash and turned their attention to me. Then I gave a treat.

For each goat other than Gimlet, I estimate it took about 12 stop-starts like this to make to the smaller pasture.

Going back to the shed in the evening, they are more likely to run like hell because that’s home and it is getting dark-ish and they are not in it. But we still managed to get there with only about 9 stop-starts.

That day was the only day I did this with treats. I moved them again the following weekend, with fewer stop-starts needed each time. And then yesterday morning with even fewer.

And then yesterday evening I was so proud of them! We all went back to the goat shed with NO STOP-STARTS. Just calm walking next to me!

So, that was six training sessions. Two per day, but the days were each a week apart. And they learned! SMART GOATS!

I have no illusions that all future transfers will go so smoothly, but I’m really proud of them and pleased at their progress.

Six on Saturday

I am too tired to write anything but the image captions

Lazarus the guinea fowl keeps watch while Bucket and Chestnut forage in the pumpkin plant
Rhus glabra
A view through the willow fedge off the back deck
It’s hemerocallis time!
Sunflower, self-sown. I’ll have to look up the name…
King of the trellis! Melothria scabra (cucumelon, or Mexican sour gherkin) has reached the top of the trellis

Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator.

Six on Saturday

1. Papilio polyxenes (Eastern swallowtail) caterpillar party in the Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’

I counted three on one plant.

Swallowtail party!

2. Burial of unhatched guinea fowl eggs

All three of these eggs had keets actively developing at 21 days, but they never hatched. Today was one day past the “they are not going to hatch” deadline. I carefully listened for any peeps and heard none.

There was a lot of hope saturating these eggs. Not all potential gets realized. <3

The three guinea fowl eggs that appeared viable at 21 days, but never hatched, buried today.

3. Blackberries

There is a thin strip of blackberries between what Lurkey can reach and what’s easy for other birds to get to. Some of them are ripening! Very close!

Blackberries are very close to being ripe.

4. Basil

Boris was chasing Lazarus night-before-last and they knocked the top out of one of my basil plants. I ate the leaves rolled up in slices of roast beef with cheese. I love the alternating leaf growth pattern.

Basil

5. Demanding guinea is demanding

Piper keeps an eye on me and, if I crouch down, she will often come running to see if I’m passing out Japanese Beetles. Tis the season. But here I was just pulling some weeds. (Grimace is running up behind her).

Piper the coral blue guinea fowl hen wants to know if I got any more of them Japanese Beetles

6. Fog and fireflies

We had a massive rainstorm in the mid/late afternoon, and as dusk fell, a heavy fog rose. The fireflies were not deterred.

 

The fog rolls in across the street with the fireflies

Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator, and links to other participants for today are available here.