From hedging our bets to betting our hedges

Low-input, low-maintenance, low-cost solutions to managing Seven Trees Farm are always under development, and security is on the list. While we’ve ticked off the more obvious measures, such as cameras, fences and lighting, it never hurts to have extra layers of protection when times get tough.

The hedgerows we started back in 2006 are maturing nicely, providing shade for pets and livestock, food for wildlife, and summer privacy for people. Now we’re extending the project to include deterring 2 and 4 legged varmints from the house yard, while adding bee/hummingbird food, medicinal plants and lovely, fragrant flowers.

Our robust rugosa rose inspired the first pick for the new hedge – Marie Bugnet. High Country Roses describes it as “A lovely rose with elegant pointed buds that open to fragrant, snow-white double blooms. One of the earliest to bloom in spring, repeating well into fall. The shrub is compact, reaching 3 feet tall and wide. Canes are a rich red in winter.”

Marie Bugnet:
From High Country Roses

Rugosa roses are generally hardier and require less fussing than ‘fancy’ roses, and the smaller size hopefully means less pruning too. We like this variety for a variety of reasons – fragrance, manageable size, long bloom time, and wicked thorns.

From Wikimedia Commons

There are some good lists and articles on defensive plantings, like this one, but each home and microclimate are unique, so not all plants listed work for everyone. We’ll add some evergreen shrubs for winter privacy (this hedgerow will screen the house from road view) and encourage previously planted herbs, like lemon balm, field mint, and catnip, to fill in the gaps. One top contender for evergreen addition is California lilac (genus Ceanothus) as it draws pollinators like bees to honey 🙂 It may not be hardy in our Fraser-outflow impacted microclimate, but it’s too pretty not to try.

Image result for california lilac
From Wikimedia Commons

 

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Bog day afternoon

Our little water feature is taking much longer to finish than planned, but then again, it will always be somewhat of a work in progress. Excavating the bog garden uncovered a water pipe, probably running from the old well to a barn or outbuilding. We left it in place, and lined the pit with black plastic, then poked a few holes in the sides for drainage. The soil stays nice and soggy without being a giant mud wallow.

File Jul 26, 11 44 05 AM

It’s hard to slog in the bog when temps hit the 90’s, and the rest of Seven Trees Farm needs extra watering and weeding. Adding a small canopy definitely helps keep the jobsite cooler. The trough pond has a sun bonnet made from bamboo poles and shade cloth. Too much sun can cause algae blooms, and the water plants can’t keep up filtering the fish waste. We plan to rebuild the bonnet with timber-sized bamboo and switch to green shade cloth eventually.File Jul 26, 11 47 02 AM

The random assortment of bog plants we’ve accumulated this season are waaaay overdue to get their roots in the dirt, so in they go, and we’ll finish up the hardscaping shortly.File Jul 26, 11 48 34 AM

So far we have cardinal flowers, crocosima, green goddess calla lily, a button fern, creeping Jenny, yellow eyed grass, dwarf cattails, and some Irish moss and native sedges that we found in the yard. The little tub in the middle will be mostly filled in with dirt and pea gravel and holds more water than the rest, for plants and critters that like their toes wet. File Jul 26, 11 49 25 AMAn old pump spigot for the outflow and a small dripper over a birdbath set in the water keep things circulating. The fish love playing in the bubbles and birds & bees come and go all day, drinking and bathing. Still plenty of room for more plants in the trough 🙂

File Jul 26, 11 49 43 AMFile Jul 26, 11 50 17 AM Luckily we had a stash of mossy old concrete chunks to add some elevation to the low end of the bog. Hopefully the spaces between them will provide habitat for toads and frogs. The narrow space between bog and trough will have a little pea gravel path that is sloped to allow overflow from the pond to drain into the bog. Once the rainy season returns, that is.
It’s amazingly refreshing to sip a cold bevvie while watching fish & wildlife, listening to the bubbles & splashing. The sound of the neighbor’s mower isn’t quite drowned out, but with so much nature going on, who cares…

Currant events

Blackcurrants are only recently regaining popularity in the United States, after being banned from the early 1900’s through the 20th century. Ribes nigrum is native to parts of northern Asia and Europe, and susceptible to a few pests and diseases, most notably white pine blister rust. When blackcurrant plants were imported to the US, the disease spread to domestic white pine forests, which had a negative impact on the logging industry, and led to the ban.

Blackcurrants have long been a favorite in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom, due in part to it’s use as an emergency source of vitamin C  during and after WW2. The German U boat blockade prevented food supplies from reaching Britain, so the government encouraged citizens to grow blackcurrants in their home gardens. Most of the crop was made into syrups and cordials, as the fresh, raw fruit has a very strong flavor, then distributed to children across the UK.

File Jun 29, 3 51 28 PM
Our blackcurrant jungle, complete with volunteer oregano plant.

With disease resistant varieties now available, and rising interest in the health benefits of dietary polyphenols and other micro-nutrients, blackcurrant cultivation is on the rise in the US. At Seven Trees Farm, we started with a few bushes, then quickly added more once we fell in love with the funky fruity flavor of blackcurrant cordial.

Mature bushes can produce up to 10 pounds of berries, and ours are just getting into their prime. Unfortunately we planted them a bit too close together, and too close to a neighboring evergreen hedge, but they are still managing to put out about 2 pounds of berries each so far. The plan is to try moving them once they go dormant for the season, but they may not take kindly to that due to their size. Luckily Whatcom county is a major berry-growing region and we can buy overstock plants from the larger farms nearby if we need to replace any. (Lesson learned: always give your plants way more room than any growing guide suggests.)

File Jun 29, 3 50 39 PM
Picker’s perspective. Harvesting blackcurrants is fiddly work.

Excalibur stays sharp

Not the sword Excalibur, but the spiffy 9-tray dehydrator we bought almost 10 years ago. excalibur

Our storage onions lasted from September through April, but May flowers means the onions are trying to flower along with everything else. After sorting through the 100 or so pounds stacked in harvest trays in the garage, we ended up with about half in good enough shape for processing.

File May 10, 8 10 04 AM

They are peeled and chopped, not so small that they fall through the dehydrator racks as they shrink, and spread out to dry. File May 10, 8 10 23 AM

After a brief cool-down, the wheelbarrow-load is reduced enough to fit into a gallon jar, and provides a ready supply of flavor boost to soups and casseroles when fresh onions aren’t available. File May 10, 7 03 28 AM

The jar on the right is a previous year’s batch, still tasty, if a little depleted. We also use the Excalibur to dry garlic and soup celery, plus a variety of herbs. If you like to grow and preserve your own garden goodies, this is the tool for you. Newer models have a lot more bells & whistles than our classic, but definitely worth the investment.

This spring has been one of the busiest ever at Seven Trees Farm. Job changes, new flooring, new windows, pond building and so on, pretty much non-stop from last fall. Sometimes nature intervenes with a rainy day recess (though a bit of hail crept into this shower)…

Lucky is adapting to being an only bird again, after losing Percy to age-related complications. He enjoys weather watching with a snack of sweet potato fries.File May 10, 8 12 14 AM

As our little trough pond gets established, more critters are finding their way to us. A huge, brightly-colored garter snake was sunning itself near the driveway, and took off nearly faster than I could snap pictures. While our native snakes take a toll on the frog population, they also eat plenty of bugs and small varmints, and it’s nice to know they feel welcome here. File May 10, 7 06 21 AM

We added a spigot to the trough pond so we can water plants without disturbing the goldfish, and also to run a trickle of water to the ground level bog that we’ll add soon. File May 06, 10 54 40 AM

See if you can spot the Pacific tree frog nestled in the watercress. File May 10, 8 14 00 AM

There are still plenty of modifications in the works for the pond, like raising the bog tub a bit more for better waterfall action and adding a better sun screen, but it’s already a peaceful oasis in the middle of our busy planting zones.

Getting our feet wet and hands muddy

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Starting out with a level base is critical, since the weight of the water, gravel & plants will make the dirt underneath settle.
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The trough only holds 159 gallons, so choosing plants & critters that can be kept in healthy balance is a fun challenge.
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There is just enough slope to allow water to overflow beneath the filter pan and down to the ground below. We’ll be sinking a 40 gallon tub in the ground to make a boggy area for taller plants later this season.
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The pump outflow hose attaches to a manifold made from PVC pieces with lots of cuts for water to push up through the pea gravel that goes on top.
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Filling the filter and the main trough to check water flow and make sure the gravel isn’t too heavy for the supporting blocks.
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A few strategic cuts in the edge of the filter pan helps direct the spillway. We also drilled some holes under the edge to fine tune the water level. The plant is from our original tub pond and will give the fish some temporary food and cover.
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Some cute miniature cattails and grocery-store watercress should help get the filter working. We’ll add more pea gravel and a newer watercress plant soon.
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While we watch for leaks, levels and back-ups, Stewart is all about the tennis ball.

 

Read more about bog filters here – Build a Gravel Bog Filter

A series of excellent videos by The Pond Digger – Patio Pond with Bog Filter

A massive compendium of ‘tub pond’ information here – Robyn’s Pond Page

We moved the fish to their new home last night and they were still alive this morning! Not bad for pet store feeder fish. As we add appropriate water plants and the bog filter plants start working, the pond should provide a nice home for the fish, fertilizer (pond water)for the garden, refreshment for hummingbirds and other critters, and a pleasant spot in our hard-working garden for us.

Eventually there will be a sunken tub for plants like like their feet wet, and critters (like our tree frogs and Western toads) that prefer calmer water with no hungry goldfish. The over flow for that bog will create a third habitat for plants that prefer intermittent soaking. Once we get the water plants situated we’ll start hardscaping around the trough, making cool nooks in stacked mossy stones for resident amphibians to enjoy, plus adding some taller plants to help shade the water surface during summer.

Now we need to figure out how to get our new baby toad to make the move 🙂

P.s. Here is the high-tech artist’s rendition of the concept-pond. pond

Local warming is not a hoax

bleedingheartWinter is slowly being flushed out of Cascadia by our customary barrage of spring storms. Even though the days are longer, it’s hard to spend much time on outside chores in the mud and wind. Naturally the assorted plant life, wanted and unwanted, are taking advantage of the situation.

trillium

Local lore has always placed the bloom time of trilliums closer to Mother’s Day (with morel season coming after the first warm rain following Mother’s Day and the trilliums’ flowering). The past few years have not followed that pattern though, and we are always observing and adjusting our growing style to keep up.

Even though we got a few hard freezes this winter, we were finally able to winter over robust rosemary plants. Being against the south-facing wall of the garage, and out of the frigid winter winds from the north, made the difference. rosemary

The cold snaps also didn’t hurt the greens we wintered over. A little Sluggo, some floating row cover during the coldest nights, and we managed a few salads. Now the kale is bolting and the red leaf lettuce has taken on a lovely color. Time to get more starts going, but the garden won’t be dry enough to till for a while yet. Perfect timing for the hen house compost to start settling into the cover crop before being turned under. wintergarden

The bay laurel trees we bought by mail back in 2011 arrived in tiny 4″ pots. Four years later, they are picking up speed and providing us with fresh herbage all year long. They are native to coastal rain forests a bit south of us, but seem to have adapted to our microclimate just fine. baylaurel

Our mad-scientist chicken experiments are starting to pay off. This year we barely had a dip in egg production, and made sure to hatch a LOT of eggs from those hard-working gals to keep winter laying genes in our bloodlines. Spring fever is starting to spread though, and our little Japanese banty, Marble, has gone broody. Teeny tiny dragon lady, sitting on someone else’s eggs 😀 broodybantyOur ’emergency’ tub pond we made mid-drought last summer ended up housing five pet store feeder fish and a few more plants.NewPond  Amazingly, the fish survived all winter, as did most of the plants (though not the water lily, whose corpse is in the basket beside the pond). In the lower left of the current picture is a thriving grocery-store watercress plant. tubpond The roots are contained in the plastic wrapper it came in, hopefully keeping it alive until we can move everything to the new pond. After much consideration (i.e. pondering pinboards) we abandoned our original concept of a large, naturalistic water feature for a more practical, productive above-ground stock tank pond. We’ll set it near the garden, and add an elevated bog filter, pumping water up through pea gravel planted with pretty plants as well as edible ones. This keeps the water healthy for fish and other critters and we get to use nutrient-rich pond water on the garden. In the meantime, our ‘pond’ is getting some practice holding rainwater. So far, so good!newpond The Pond Digger has an excellent video series on building a patio pond with bog filter. Check it out –  and stay tuned for updates.

 

Puca came early

Our berry patches usually give us the first sign of the end of summer. For weeks straight, we’re able to pick more berries than fit in the freezer, usually until the first frost.This year was really tough on the berry plants though. Record heat and drought conditions interspersed with record rainfall, not to mention transplanting all the raspberries right at bloomtime, threw the harvest cycle into a downward spiral. Eventually the day came where the berries looked good from a distance, but on closer inspection were all funky. Some have slug tracks, some are already rotten and dropping off, and some never really get ripe. We call this “berries gone puca”.PucaBerries

What the heck is a puca, you ask?

…..

PookaHorse

The Puca (also spelled Pooka, Puka, Puck) is a supernatural creature mostly associated with Ireland, West Scotland and Wales. It can take a variety of shapes, dog, rabbit, goat or goblin, but a large black horse with glowing golden eyes is the most common form. It has the power of human speech, and legends abound in Ireland of people seeking advice from a Puca, which are probably remnants of pre-christian religious rituals. Pucas are also known to abduct unwary nighttime travellers, taking them for a wild ride, then leaving them unharmed where they were found.

…..

An ancient agricultural custom was that any crops left unharvested after Samhain (Oct. 31/Nov. 1) belonged to the Puca, and anyone gathering them would also gather the ill-will of the Puca.

PhoucaBerries“At the beginning of November, the Puca was known—in some locales—to either defecate or spit on the wild fruits rendering them inedible and unsafe thenceforth.” Parents would warn their children not to eat these crops by telling them they would make them sick. In many areas people would proactively leave a small portion of their crops in the field, called the Puca’s share.

If you’d like to read more about this creature, including how one was tamed by Irish high king Brian Boru, check out these links: