The Druid's Garden

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

Homestead Updates – Early August 2014 August 5, 2014

With all my discussion of everything else, I have failed to do any reasonable update about the homestead in the last few months.  So here’s an update of what’s happening around the homestead!

 

The Druid’s Organic Vegetable Garden: Veggies, Pests, and Interplantings

One of the things I’m learning about organic gardening is that each year, the challenges of pests are quite different, and basing this year’s garden off of last year’s successes and tribulations isn’t always a sure bet.  My first year, I had potato beetles, hundreds of potato beetles that I had to hand pick and feed to my peeps.   The next year, it was the year of the squash bug and borer; I lost nearly all of my squash and zuchinni crops to them (the only squash I got came up in my compost pile!). Then it was blight and wilt the 3rd year.   This year, it is the year of the slug.  Slugs took out a good 25% of my crops before I resorted to buying some OMRI certified Sluggo (which uses iron phosphate to disrupt the slugs).  And Sluggo works, even if I applied it a little too late.  I think its all the rain and no heat. This lovely pumpkin patch has taken a beating recently, as have most of my squash. Slugs are literally eating the bottoms of the vines, like where they go into the ground.  Its very different than the other kind of bug damage from previous years!

Unhappy Pumpkins eaten by slugs

Unhappy Pumpkins eaten by slugs

Unripe pumpkin grows!

Unripe pumpkin grows!

But regardless of this year’s challenge, the garden is going great.  I am still working on planting enough that I can harvest fresh and have enough for canning and preservation but yet not too much that I’m getting overwhelmed.  This is not an easy task.  I have a great bean harvest, but I’ve already canned what I wanted to can, and now I’ll be freezing some because I’m kinda overwhelmed with beans!

Wall of Beans!

Wall of Beans!  Trellising is working well here 🙂

I also planted too many zucchini.  I went with three successions of 4 plants each this year, planted at two-week intervals, because the last two years, I didn’t have any at all due to the squash borers.  This year though, since the borers are nowhere to be seen (perhaps killed off by the hard winter), I ended up with 12 healthy plants.  Its worked out well, as I’ve been teaching at a local community organization that has a soup kitchen and free food table, so the extras are going there each week.  And I eat zucchini and beansnow at least once a day.

Zuchinni and Kale

Zuchinni and Kale

In the photo above, you can also see my row of kale and potatoes on the right (I am experimenting with various interplantings this year).  The kale remains one of my absolute favorite crops–it rarely has serious pest damage, it produces for longer than any other crop due to its cold resistance, it is incredibly healthy and tasty and versatile, and it is extremely easy to grow.  I consider it one of the best plants for beginner gardeners to start out with!  The interplantings also seem to be going well–except that to harvest my potatoes, I need to pull up some kale. So I think in the future I won’t do long, thin rows but blocks of potatoes and kale.  Other interplantings were radish and zuchinni, carrots and lettuce, and basil and eggplant/peppers/tomatoes. All seem happy.

Another crop that I’ve been super pleased with this year is the three sisters garden (another interplanting).  Two rows of popcorn, two rows of sweet corn, and one row of beans and squash on the edges of each.  I used bush beans this year, and in future years, I would use climbing beans instead because they are starting to get shaded out.  The squash are working their way through the beans and corn…everything is very, very happy and abundant and wild, just how I like it!  You can see a squash hanging from the corn in the 2nd photo on the right. I am going to add this as a staple in my gardening in the future.  The one thing I will say about this interplanting is that it is not early season planting, so you’ll want to think about adding other things in other parts of the garden that are earlier season, rather than go with all three sisters (which I’ve heard of people doing).

Three Sisters Gardens

Three Sisters Gardens

Three sisters

Three sisters

Since its been so cold and damp, the celery is also growing really well this year.  Interestingly enough, its super mild this year (and it was sooo strong last year, especially after frost, that I could only use a little at a time).  I am very much enjoying cooking with the freshest of celery!

Celery

Celery

Here are a few other shots of the garden and awesome things growing!

Various Cabbages and Chards

Various Cabbages and Chards

Cucumber almost ripe

Cucumber almost ripe

I am growing these cukes an old bedframe–this trellis works great!

Tomato trellis (only sorta working)

Tomato trellis (only sorta working)

The photo above is of my tomato trellises.  I saw this done at another farm last year.  I had hoped to use it to trellis tomatoes…I think I needed stronger rope and I needed to be more on top of it than I was.  Its sorta working, but its sorta not.  The idea is that you pound in stakes, and then you string rope, and then weave the tomatoes up it.  But my tomatoes didn’t want to seem to grow very high up, they prefer instead to go out.  So I’m not sure what to do about that.  I’ll just be glad to get the tomatoes :).

 

The Bees

I discussed beekeeping first a few months ago.  The bees are enjoying the last major nectar flows of the year–the clover is mostly done for the season, but now the spotted knapweed/star thistle and the goldenrod is coming in.  They bees are still quite busy and the hives now have 40,000 to 50,000 bees each, and I have honey supers on both hives.  I’m hoping I’ll get at least some honey–and that’s looking likely, although how much it will be is not clear yet. Here’s one of the magical hives–the fourth box (on top) is the super!

Happy hive!

Happy hive!

Close up of bees

Close up of bees using their upper entrance hole

I want to say something about spotted knapweed.  Its one of those plants that people often get upset about, that its a ‘terrible invasive.’  I’ve heard of people dumping Monsanto’s Roundup on it to get rid of it…there are so many things wrong with dumping Roundup anywhere for any purpose, in my opinion. I’m working on an extended post on invasive plants and the concept of invasion, but for now, what I can say that as a beekeeper and permaculturist, I am happy to see the knapweed growing.  It is only growing in highly disturbed soil, so its one of those “opportunistic” species; other things grow in those same soils in other parts of the year.  In my many forays into the abundant wild fields to gather medicinals and food, I see it thriving in an ecosystem with other plants including St. Johns Wort, Yarrow, Mullein, Milkweed, and Goldenrod.  And every time I see it, its covered in bees, butterflies, and other things.  The beekeepers around here call it “star thistle” and, frankly, it is one of the most delightful tasting honeys you will ever enjoy.  Not to mention, the plant has medicinal value itself.  So while my bees live off of “invasive” star thistle and sweet clover, the hives grow strong.

Brood

Brood

This final bee photo shows the comb where the bees are raising brood.  You can see the white larvae in the brood chamber.  It takes about 25 days for the egg to turn into a larvae, then pupae, and then emerge.  I got to witness a pupae emerging when I was doing a hive inspection recently–she chewed her way slowly out of the capped chamber, then turned right around and cleaned out the chamber so a new egg could be laid inside by the queen.  The whole thing was amazing and incredible!  When you look in the hive, you can see the bees at all stages of growth.  The oldest bees are the foragers; they leave the hive to bring back nectar and pollen.

 

Chickens

I lost a good deal of my chicken flock to a raccoon in December.  My magical rooster, Anasazi, managed to survive and he was living at a friend’s house with a friend’s flock for the last six months.  In June, right around the solstice,. his crowing, which I love, got to be too much for my friends.  He needs to bring the sun up every day, so of course he is going to crow quite a bit!  And so I brought him back here and bought one large hen (a rescue) and then have been raising up a bunch of peeps for his flock.  You see, one rooster prefers to have about 10-12 hens, so that’s what I’m trying to give him (the things I do for that bird…lol).  Two weekends ago, I hosted a permablitz through the Oakland County Permaculture meetup, taught people about raising chickens, and had a bunch of help building an awesome new coop and enclosure for the growing flock.  Here’s a photo of the mostly-finished project:

Chicken Coop

Chicken Coop & enclosure

The new little ones arrived in mid-July, and they are growing so fast.  Here are a few shots of them from their first week of life!

New peeps don't want to pose for the camera

New peeps don’t want to pose for the camera, but they will poop on the stairs.

Young and old chickens

Young and old chickens; Anasazi the rooster is not interested

I am raising two adolescents birds as well, who I picked up in early june as peeps.  They are “clover” and “dandelion”; and they just joined the two older birds in the main coop.  They’ve been getting along well, but the two little ones refuse to go in at night so I have to go out, pick them up, and put them in the coop till they go on their own.  The adolescent chickens have, for no reason I can understand, taken a liking to my cat (who, up until a few weeks ago and they got too big, wanted to eat them for dinner).

Clover and Grimalkin hang out

Clover and Grimalkin hang out

Other Life on the Land

The land is bursting with so much life, so many beautiful herbs and plants, so many sacred tall trees.  I am so happy to see monarchs in the yard, hummingbirds, and even a bluebird this week!  I’ve been thinking about “if you grow it, they will come” as a philosophy behind the wildlife and butterfly sanctuary.  And that truely is what is happening here!

Coneflower

Coneflower

Burdock and the Honeybee

Burdock and the Honeybee

After each of my herb weekends, I come home to discover more medicinal plants growing here.  Just yesterday, a friend and I were walking around the property and came across a whole patch of boneset–an herb I had on my “to find” list.  And across from the boneset was a crampbark tree!  The bounty and beauty of this land amazes me each day, and I feel so honored to call this place my home.

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Garden Trellising – Bedframes, Sticks, and other Repurposed Items! August 24, 2013

This year in my garden, I focused on growing “up” rather than “out” and spent a lot of time finding and using trellises.  Last winter, I purchased and read a book called “Vertical Gardening” by Derek Fell; after reading it, realized that I could get a lot more out of my garden with better trellises (and plant a heck of a lot more beans!)   One of the basic things a trellis does is provide support–support for further growth.  Some plants, like beans, grow much better when they can climb; other plants, like squash, take up so much space that if they aren’t trellised, they are harder to grow. In this post, I’ll discuss six kinds of trellising that I attempted this year and the success of each.

 

Before getting into the “how-to” of trellising, however, I want to step back and reflect upon the spiritual dimension of the concept of a trellis. If we think about our own growth, that growth needs to be supported in various ways, usually with a strong underlying structure.  Without the support we can bear fruit, but our full potential cannot be reached.  With a support structure in place (mentors, resources, and spaces) we are able to grow to our fullest potential and to bear much more fruit.  We also need to make sure that our support structures are appropriate–they are not too weak to bear the weight of our burdens.  I have found that planning for trellising in my garden, in helping my plants find their trellises and watching them grow, has taught me much about mentoring others and about the supports that I, myself, need.  I think that we, as people, have much to learn from plants!

 

And now without further delay, six methods for trellising!

 

The Bed Frame Trellis

One of my favorite trellises I put in this year is an old box spring.  A friend gave me an old bed, but it got so wet and muddy on his drive to bring it to me that I wasn’t able to use any of it for the purpose of sleeping.  So I tore the thing apart to see what else I might do with it, and once I had it apart, it looked like a great trellis!  Now it supports some Black Krim tomatoes (one of my favorite varieties) and some cucumbers (that didn’t do very well because of our cold weather).

 

Here’s the process of tearing apart the bed frame!

Box spring deconstsruction

Box spring deconstsruction

In the box spring, I also found this cool pad that looks like it was made from recycled material/fabric (behind the box springs in gray).  I put it down in my art studio as a kind of rug, which will keep my feet warm in the winter.

Nearly there!

Nearly there!

Growing tomatoes!

Growing tomatoes!

 

Second Bed Frame trellis + lattice trellis

Second Bed Frame trellis + lattice trellis

 

 

The “found it along the road” trellis

A lot of stuff I used for trellising are things I found along the road or got otherwise for free.     Here are some wooden lattice pieces that someone threw out–now they are holding up beans.  I found a number of tomato cages (probably about 12 total) that are now holding up tomatoes.  I also was given this wooden rack with a dowel rod–I *think* it was meant to be a clothing rack.  I purchased some acrylic rope trellising and added it to the rack and now some malabar spinach is enjoying the climb.  Its amazing what a little repurposing and some careful attention to your neighbors’ curb will get you!

This is good for lighter plants!

This is good for lighter plants!

The “Built from Sticks” trellis

Another simple method for trellising is to build some out of sticks.  I found that if you are going to do this, natural twines, like hemp, don’t hold up well for a whole season.  Wire seems to work quite well, however, and I found a bunch of that and some acrylic string at a yard sale that I used to build most of these trellises.

Close-up of beans on trellis

Close-up of beans on trellis

Pea trellis with sunflowers behind (see the mega-sunflower? Its 12+ feet tall!)

Pea trellis with sunflowers behind (see the mega-sunflower? Its 12+ feet tall!)

Fall peas with their trellises

Fall peas with their trellises

 

The “Homegrown” trellis

Another trellis is the one you grow–in my case, I’m trellising using corn (with squash, as the Native Americans did) and sunflowers (for beans).  I’m growing a variety of Indian Popcorn (I purchased seed from local farmers, so I can’t tell you much about it beyond that its an heriloom “Indian popcorn” adapted to this region) and that is holding up well with the squash.

Corn holding up squash...kinda gets wild :)

Corn holding up squash…kinda gets wild 🙂

The sunflowers are also doing nicely with the beans. I planted a variety called “Mega sunflower” and I have sunflowers in my garden that are close to 12′ tall!  They are very strong at this point in the year and hold up the beans quite well.  I think I’ll use their dried stalks next year for more trellising if I can (if not, I have one stalk that a friend gave me from last year that makes an excellent chicken herding tool, haha).   They also look beautiful in the garden!

Sunflowers growing with beans!

Sunflowers growing with beans!

I will say, for this approach, you have to be careful of the ratio of climbing plants (or the weight) and the plants that are supporting. In my friend Debbie’s garden, she planted a LOT of beans and didn’t plant enough sunflowers and the two sunflowers that came up were pulled down by a bunch of bean plants.

 

The Sheep Fencing Trellis

This is probably my favorite trellis, just because of its versatility.  I took a friend’s truck to the Tractor Supply store, and there, I purchased what is known as “sheep fencing” or “Livestock fencing.”  It usually comes in panels that are either 16′ or 20′ long.  I purchased two 16′ panels of livestock fencing at about $22 each.  One I turned into a trellis for tomatoes for my friend’s garden using some metal stakes.  As the tomatoes grew, she just worked them into the trellis.

 

The second sheep fence I put in my butterfly garden and made it into an arch. To do this, I bent the trellis over and staked both sides with metal stakes, holding the trellis in place with wire. I sunk the stakes 16″ into the ground so that they were well below our frost line (14″).  I planted hardy kiwi on this trellis (they are now two years old and growing well, but I haven’t gotten a yield from them yet).  This fencing is really versatile–and compared to how much I’d pay for an “arch” trellis online or at a garden store, the price is really reasonable!

Livestock Fence Trellis

Livestock Fence Trellis

Livestock Fence Arch

Livestock Fence Arch

Costs Involved

I want to point out that the only new thing that I paid for in terms of trellising my garden this  was the sheep fencing–literally everything else was either made, found, or given to me.  The key to enacting permaculture design principles and minimizing one’s impact is to use what resources already exist–don’t think about going to the store and purchasing trellising (for one, its incredibly expensive) but rather see what you have around and available.  Ask around and always look for opportunities!