The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

Garden and Homesteading Update – March 31, 2014 March 31, 2014

The Spring Equinox was a mere week and a half ago, and today, for the first time, it felt like spring.  The snows are melting and the warmth is coming.  I think its been a long, hard winter for many of us, and not just because of the weather.  It was a dark time for many, myself included, and I am very happy to see the sun and feel the warmth again. This post provides an overview of the garden in its current state (March 31st) as well as the surrounding landscape.  I’ll conclude the post with some of the things I plan on covering on the blog in the coming year.

 

The Broader Landscape

 

The snows are not yet melted, and the lakes and ponds are still frozen over.  Here’s an image of the spiral labyrinth I’ve been walking on my pond all winter–its still there, and the ice is still quite thick.

Imbolc Spiral

Imbolc Spiral

I visited Lake Huron with a few friends yesterday, and likewise, the Great Lakes are still encrusted with ice.  Here’s a shot from yesterday at White Rock, on the Southwestern edge of Lake Huron.

Altar by the Lake

Altar by the Lake

Druid playing the flute on the frozen lake

Druid playing the flute on the frozen lake (March 30, the garden shots below are from March 31!)

Even with all of this ice, however, the land and lakes are slowly thawing.

 

The Garden and its Magic

 

Today I spent time out in the garden in the afternoon, and it was a really welcome and nurturing time.  I can’t believe how much healing one can gain with only a few hours in the sun and with the plants and soil!

 

First, the most important discovery–plants under my hoop houses survived.  I added an additional layer to their shelter, something called “remay” which is a spun fiber.  I added this in early December, after the cold really set in.  It goes under the main hoop and above the plants and helps give them one additional layer of protection.  This still typically only protects the plants to 5 or 10 degrees or so, however.  With the cold winter, and the evenings of -15 and -17, I thought there was no hope for my little hoops.

 

And yet…look what I found today.  You’ll notice in the first picture that the spinach only in the center survived–that’s because the ground freezes from the edges inward.  But I realized, as my hoops were covered with over 2′ of snow, that that snow itself must have provided a buffer for the spinach.  This likely means that my other zone 6 plants (like my pecan tree back by the circle) had a chance of survival.

Spinach Survived!

Spinach Survived! (And see all that snow, still?)

Hope returns to the world!

Hope returns to the world!

A small radish survivor!

A small radish survivor!

I can’t really describe to you the feeling of opening up that hoop house and seeing those living spinach and radish plants.  I had given up on them as the hoops had mostly caved in under the heavy snow and ice that I wasn’t able to remove, as the darkness set in.  I have always seen the garden as a metaphor for myself, and I’ve had so many cold, dark, barren months recently.  Seeing those spinach and radish plants renewed the promise of spring within me….something survived, and soon, it will be giving me further nourishment and strength.  It was a profound moment, there in the garden.

 

All of the fall garden preparation has paid off–the early spring beds are just filled with wonderful soil.  I am so pleased to see it, as I have spent years making this soil the best it can be. I moved my 2nd hoop house (the one that wasn’t protecting anything), prepped a bed of lettuce and carrots, direct seeded them, and covered them back up.

Amazing soil for lettuce and carrots!

Amazing soil for lettuce and carrots!

One of the other things I wanted to report back on was the effect of the cover crops.  With 2+ feet of snow and ice on the ground, all of the soil in the beds is very compacted–its probably 4″ lower than it was in the fall.  It appears the red clover died off completely….but the winter rye is the hardiest of plants, and it, of course, survived.  Not only did it survive, but it kept my beds covered in it mostly spongy and nice, instead of compacted.  The beds with the winter rye are a full 2-3″ higher than those with bare soil or just straw.

Winter rye bed

Winter rye bed

I began turning the winter rye under today–it requires a full two weeks of wait time before planting after you turn it under.  I’ll work to turn all of it under in the next few weeks–this is a laborious job and one that could be done with petrochemicals, but after the rather lazy winter months, I don’t mind the hard work :).   I also like to add some brown matter to the soil to help the bacteria break down the rye–I added some composted leaves (leaf mulch) as I turned.  A simple garden fork does this work beautifully (much better than a shovel, which I used to use before I discovered the fork).

Turning under the rye

Turning under the rye

Peas germinate at 40 degrees or higher and don’t mind cold soils.  I used the garden fork to aerate the garden bed, and reduce soil compaction. I just stuck it into the bed and tilted it a bit to loosen the soil.  Then I planted my first succession of peas (Early Alaska, saved from last year) and will plant another succession every two weeks for the next 6 weeks.  This will ensure a continual harvest into the early summer.  You can see my homemade trellises here as well (they move easily enough to the new bed).

Planting peas

Planting peas

I checked on the garlic I planted in the fall.  No sign of sprouting yet!

Hoop house, cover crop, garlic bed, and more!

Hoop house, cover crop, garlic bed, and more!

The last thing I did today was make a new, large compost pile.  I had the pile started in the fall, but I pulled out all of the food waste I had stored in my tumbler over the winter, added it to the big pile, and added several layers of leaves, some of the old straw from the garden, etc.  The pile is now almost 5′ high and 8′ wide and 4′ long, so it should break down nicely as the weather warms.

Looking Ahead

To conclude this post, I wanted to share a few more of the things that I’m planning on doing more this year:

  • Bees! Perhaps the most important news is that this year I am going to be a beekeeper for the first time :).  I have the hives, the bees ordered, and the rest of my supplies (suit, foundation, etc) are on their way! I’ve read every book on the subject I can find, joined a beekeeping association, found a bee mentor, have a friend who wants to learn as well, and feel I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.  I’ll have a blog post (or three) on the bees soon.
  • Garden expansion: I’m adding about 700 square feet of growing space (plus pathways, etc) to the garden this year to accommodate new vegetable and plant varieties.  In the fall, I added in numerous additional herb gardens in the front yard, and have seeds started for many new herbs.  The big job here will be fencing, and since fencing has been a struggle, I will share some of my experiences!
  • Herbalism course. I’m starting Jim McDonald’s four season herbal intensive course this upcoming weekend–expect even more posts on herbalism in the coming months.
  • Fermentation and foods: I plan to make my own miso, make more dandelion wine, make other kinds of krauts and fermented foods, and share those processes with you this year.
  • Sacred Trees: I’ll keep posting regularly on my research on sacred trees native/naturalized to the Midwest/Great Lakes area.  I think this is important work, and I am certainly learning a lot more about the trees as part of this series.
  • And lots more! I expect to engage in more natural building, foraging, and many other wonderful sustainable and spiritual activities this year–and I’m excited to share them with you.

 

I also have some very tragic news on the homesteading front.

  • Chooks. In late December, when I was out of town for the holidays, all of my hens passed on to their next life; they made a good meal or two for a hungry raccoon.  My beloved rooster, Anasazi, did survive (he has many lives, clearly) and is living at a friend’s house till I can raise more hens.  This was a combination of an ice storm, insecure living arrangement, loss of electricity, impassible roads, and a bunch of other things.  I have mourned their loss and miss them terribly.  But, I look forward to new hens later this year.

 

I hope that everyone has a wonderful spring–I’d love to hear about how you are enjoying the warmer weather and melting snows and what plans you have for projects this year.

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January Garden Updates January 13, 2013

I really love January. The bitter cold, the winds, the snow–there’s something so magical about being out in a snowstorm.  Where most people lament for the sun and hot summer months, I welcome all of the cold, the wind, the ice, the snow.  It stirrs something within me–it says, “embrace the darkness of this time, go into hibernation, rest, and when the time is right, emerge into the light!”  The latter part of December and January brought the wonderful snow storms and cold.  We had about 8″ here on the ground for several weeks. Unfortunately, the cold has broken and the snows have melted. Its January 13th.  More winter must come.

But since the last few days have been warmer, I was able to open up the hoop houses and take some photos of what’s going on in the garden.  Its amazing to see that we still have so much produce available, even in the midst of the harshest of the winter months.  Here are some photos from yesterday (Jan 12th).  Zone 6, South-East Michigan.

Lima Bean eats Rye

Lima Bean eats Rye

The chickens continue to enjoy the winter rye I planted as a green manure/cover crop.  Its a great crop for them to get their greens all winter long–since little else stays green, they are often at the rye when its not covered with snow.

Lentil digs worms.

Lentil digs worms.

The chickens continue to forage the land every chance they are able. They’ve been out in our pole barn during the heavy snows (they don’t like walking on it) and so when the weather cleared up a bit, they were so happy to be out to peck and scratch again.  And have a clean coop, since I was unable to open their back door that had frozen shut to clean it for a few weeks!

Hoop House!

Hoop House!

Second hoop house!

Second hoop house!

Here are photos of my two hoop houses.  They are doing amazingly well for it being January.  The first hoop house has minzua (which has fared less well than the rest of the greens), arugula, spinach, and kale.  This one was planted later than the first–in late September–so the spinach is still pretty small, but its good.  The tricky thing about hoop house gardening is anticipating how long you can get crops to the “harvest” state, that is, when they are ready to harvest and keep them there.  This is important because hoop houses in the coldest months of the year extend the *harvest* season and not the *growing* season.   If they go dormant before they are too large, then you have small greens to eat.

The second hoop house was planted earlier in the year–mid August–so it has nice sized kale, a few leeks (which were planted in May), cabbages, and more spinach.  My rooster, Anasazi, is checking out the cabbage :).

Here are some close-up photos of the lovely veggies still growing in the hoop house.

Leeks

Leeks

Kale (outside of hoop house)

Kale (outside of hoop house)

Cabbage

Cabbage

Baby spinach

Baby spinach

Arugula

Arugula

I’ll leave you, dear blog readers, with some photos of what winter is *supposed* to look like!  These were taken last year.  I didn’t get shots of the snowstorm here because I was in PA visiting my family.

View from backyard

View from backyard

Snowy Oak Tree

Snowy Oak Tree

Our front road

Our front road

Embrace the cold and snow, my friends!

 

Gardening into December: Hoop House Updates, Chickens, Composting, and More! November 17, 2012

I wanted to post another update about the progress of the hoop houses and other gardening activities in mid-November in my Zone 6 climate in South East Michigan.  As I wrote about in earlier blog posts, I have been experimenting with hoop houses for season extension.  I posted a picture of my mid-April harvest in my earlier post; now I’m going to show you what is going on in the hoop houses in late November.  Most of these crops would have gotten zapped by a 20 degree evening about two weeks ago, but they are going strong in the hoop houses!  So here are some photos from today (its a bit warm today, so I lifted up the hoop houses to see what is growing inside).

Cabbage, kale, and spinach...oh my!

Cabbage, kale, and spinach…oh my!

Most of the veggies in these photos were planted in late August (except the Kale and Leeks, which have been going since spring).  Next year, I think I’m going to start them even sooner, as once the weather gets cold they don’t really grow.  Hoop house gardening extends the harvest season moreso than the growing season.  Here are a few more photos.

Arugula, Minzua, and more spinach!

Spinach is amazing this time of year!

These are a little small...I planted them too late, I think!

These cabbages are still a little small…I planted them too late, I think!

So yes, there will be fresh greens through December. I will be serving a salad at our Thanksgiving meal next week, and even with me picking some greens every few days for a meal, I should have enough greens to last till Yule!  The hoop houses last year made it till New Years (when I stupidly forgot to close them and the arugula and spinach I was growing got zapped).  We had such a mild winter that I wonder if they could have lasted longer.  This year I will do more experimenting and find out!

A family that I am friends with asked for some garden space, so we also got their garden established this fall.  They’ve planted winter wheat in part of it as well as some garlic. We are also in the process of laying down some newspaper and cardboard as weed suppression for the rows.

Winter wheat!

I also have some winter rye growing as a cover crop in part of the garden (one one of my newer beds to help establish the soil).  I’m going to get my chickens to till it under in the spring for me :).  The chickens enjoy nibbling on it this time of year.

Winter Rye - chickens love it!

Winter Rye – chickens love it!

A lot of what I’ve been doing in the last two months, especially now that the leaves have dropped, is composting and preparing my beds for next season.  I drive around the neighborhood and pick up as many bags of leaves as I can.  Most of these go directly into the garden, but I also save some for projects I know I have planned for next year (since fall leaves happen but once a year).  Fall is an excellent time to collect yard “waste” (and its anything but waste to a gardener).  My neighbors are always so kind to bag it up for me, stick it on the curb for me to pick up, and sometimes, even mulch it.  This year I collected about 40 bags of leaves as well as raked up a massive pile of my own.  These will all be used before next fall–for mulch, for sheet mulched beds, etc.

Garden beds with layers of compost and shredded leaves--ready for next season!

Garden beds with layers of compost and shredded leaves–ready for next season!

Lots of composting happening!

Lots of composting happening!  The pile to the right is my main pile for next year; it has coffee grounds, leaves, yard waste, food waste, etc.  Its about 5′ high now.

I’m also just about finished establishing a few new beds and tree planting.  Fall, again, is a great time for this because of all of the copious amounts of material for your new beds.  Trees that are planted in fall can have time to establish their root systems over winter before the hot, dry days of summer come back.  I’m also doing some experiments with other kinds of garden beds, such as the hugelkultur bed.

Hugelkulture bed in progress

Hugelkulture bed in progress, complete with chicken inspection.

New trees planted, protected, and mulched (mulch will be planted with beneficial plants like comfrey, mints, in the spring)

New trees planted, protected, and mulched (mulch will be planted with beneficial plants to help the tree, like comfrey, mints, false indigo, in the spring)

I also do a bit of indoor gardening, mainly for plants that can’t handle being outside in Michigan winters.  Here are my three citrus trees (one has oranges, very tart!) and a lemon-scented geranium.  The geranium I found at the bottom of a big bag of leaves, along with some other plants on the curb.  Fall is also a great time for what I call compost diving.  In addition to neighbors putting out leaves,  I find all sorts of stuff, and surprisingly, a lot of live plants :).

Citrus in south-facing window

Citrus in south-facing window

Lemon-scented geranium

Lemon-scented geranium

The chickens enjoy free-ranging every chance they get (which is anytime that either I or my husband are at home).  They are now all grown up (hatched mid-July).  We also took in a stray rooster who was kicked out of a neighbor’s flock.  I’ve had hens before, but never a roster.  But for free ranging chickens, the rooster is a great protector of the flock, not to mention being beautiful to look at, and I’m happy to have him with the girls!

Lentil and Pinto pecking and scratching

Lentil and Pinto pecking and scratching

Chickens near their chicken tractor/coop

Chickens near their chicken tractor/coop

Anasazi, our stray rooster that is now part of the flock

Anasazi, our stray rooster that is now part of the flock

 

Shelter and Growth: Hoop House Gardening April 19, 2012

Throughout ancient sites in the UK, where Druidry originated, we find barrows, underground tunnels, and chambers hidden deep within the earth.  These “protective places” are sites sheltered from the elements, the bitter cold and frigid winds, where people could find nourishment and strength.  We see similar sites being used throughout the world, some permanent, and some temporary (like Native American sweat lodges that could be moved from place to place).  Even today, entering one of these places, and the shelter they provide, allows us to grow and develop greater spiritual insights.

Closed hoop house with greens growing inside!

Closed hoop house with greens growing inside!

What do these places have to do with gardening?  As gardeners, we can use this idea of shelter–both for what it gives us and for protecting the plants that we grow.  Sometimes, a little shelter allows us to grow faster, and better, than being exposed to the elements.

For the last eight months, I have been experimenting with hoop house gardening, which has allowed me to use small, movable hoop houses to shelter my plants and extend my growing season.  The following are some observations about hoop house gardening as well as directions for creating and using your own hoop house.

I only keep my hoop houses closed if the weather is below 40 degrees. Leaving them open means you don't have to water them by hand (and you can overheat the veggies!)

Hoop House Gardening

On March 1st, 2012 I started my hoop houses (after giving them a break in January and February).  As a test, I planted the same set of seeds outside the hoop house as compared to inside the hoop house.

Here are the photos of the test garden vs. the hoop house.  Planted in both plots were Spinach (American and Purple Passion); lettuce (two kinds), arugula, and leeks).  All of these are cold-resistant varieties that are meant to do well and handle frost.  I should add that I did cover the non-hoop house area with straw to help keep out the elements.  It didn’t help, lol.

I should also mention that half of what you see in the left hand photo below are probably weeds.

The key for my hoop houses is that they are movable, so that as the weather changes, I can cover and uncover various parts of my garden (which are all 4′ wide, the same width as the hoop house).  Although typically you can’t plant tomatoes here until the last frost date (May 27th), some of my tomatoes will go in 5 weeks early and be placed under one of my two hoop houses (at this point, the greens that are under them will be able to withstand the cold temperatures because they will no longer be going below 25 or so).  This means that I’ll have tomatoes earlier than anyone else!

In The Winter Harvest Handbook, Elliott Coleman (who is a fabulous gardener and writer) describes the technique of using movable hoop houses on a larger scale.  As he writes, hoop houses used in the fall allow us to extend the harvest season–but not necessarily the growing season.  When it gets bitter cold, the plants go into dormancy (I experienced this last December with my kale and arugula).  This means that you want your plants timed so that by late October (at least in my zone) they are done growing.  The shelter of the hoop house allows the plants to be protected, however, and you can continue to harvest through at least the winter solstice.  (Even in our Zone six climate in South-East Michigan, I was able to harvest greens for Thanksgiving and Yule dinners!)

I learned this lesson the hard way.  I planted some onions in late July and eventually covered that area with the hoop house.  The onions were 100 days till harvest, and needless to say, were only a few inches high when January hit.  I ignored them in their hoop house through the frigid months, and when I opened up the hoop houses two months later, there they were–and now they are almost ready to harvest in mid-April!  You can see them in the photos above :).

Hoop House Construction

Hoop houses are really quite simple to build–and you can probably do it with mostly re-purposed/recycled materials (I reused plastic drop cloths and some lumber scraps in my design).  The hoop houses that I am using are 7′ long and 4′ wide, with hoops made from PVC plastic that are about 2.5 – 3 feet high.  I wanted to make them a little longer (8′, but 7′ boards were all I could fit in my car, lol!)

I used pine boards for the base (but you could use Cedar for better rot protection).

Building a hoop house is really simple–its a wooden frame (screwed together) with “hoops” (I used PVC plastic pipes) and covered with plastic stapled to the frame.  The hoop houses I made cost about $20-$25/each.

I have no idea what these little fixtures are, but I used them to attach my PVC to the frame and they worked really well. I found them near electrical equipment :).