Saturday, November 16, 2013

A garden emerges - weekend three

I was only able to spend three hours this week in the garden, but productive hours they were. Progress is slow but I'm already starting to see the results.

This week's trip brought me smiles as I discovered lots of new seedlings emerging from the chard, spinach, pea, carrot and turnip beds. Newly planted flowers are starting to bloom as well. I was mentally prepared to wait for the carrots to appear after reading The Carrot Seed to our daughter countless times, but less than two weeks later, here they are.

Of course, with lots of seedlings, comes lots of thinning. Next week will be spent hunched over pulling out extras. You have to be ruthless or the plants won't grow well when they're too crowded. I was able to start thinning the bok choi this week. There will be another thinning once the bok choi has grown a bit more but those will be big enough to go into a salad.

This weekend's job was to tackle the bee and butterfly gardens surrounding the raised beds. I was able to find most of the main foundation plants in 4" containers at the garden store, which will save a lot of money since I need a lot of plants. They'll grow quickly once spring arrives.

The feature foundation plant will be Smokebush 'royal purple (Cotinus coggygria), seen above in the foreground. Its' dark purple foliage will make the surrounding green and pink plants pop. Along the back of the beds will be mass plantings of feather reed grass "karl foerster" (Calamagrostis x acutiflora) to define the back edge. In front are Anise hyssop 'Vivid' (Agastache), Verbena bonariensis, pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida), California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum foliolosum) and 'Red Velvet' yarrow (Achillea millefolium). I also squeezed in some extra english peas in one of the beds and the seeds have already sprouted.

There will be much more bee loving flowers soon. The irrigation takes longer than the planting to set up but will pay off down the road. Though it doesn't look like much now, below are before and after pictures of a beautiful garden by Kate Frey, a landscape designer in Hopland, CA. See more of Kate's work here.

The Melissa Garden by Kate Frey, February 2008.
And after four months, this is what the garden became.

The Melissa Garden by Kate Frey, July 2008.
Patience and ample plant spacing makes for a beautiful garden. At least it's starting to pay off in the vegetable beds.

Just a few more weeks and we'll have plenty of ingredients for stir fries.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The raised bed garden plan

Here is the overall plan for the south facing vegetable and fruit tree garden. Amazingly, the location of the new raised beds fit perfectly within the existing fruit trees on our property. The new design reduces the lawn area by over half and connects the vegetable garden with the main house. We also discovered we now have mountain views to the north and west when we set down our adirondack chairs in the back of the garden. Now we have to plant as many perennials we can manage to build up the bee and butterfly gardens for flowers  early next spring. Laying the irrigation takes up the most time.

The Santa Rosa weeping plum tree is now one of the main highlights of the garden. Before, it was lost among the tumble of raised beds but now it is fully on display next to the dining table we have yet to find. By midsummer next year, the branches will be brushing against the gravel and we'll be able to pluck fruit from our chairs.

I've found that labeling the raised beds makes life much easier when I'm planning future plantings. The beds will rotate in groups of two to three in a counter clockwise direction every season to allow for ample crop rotation. I like to do things backwards for some reason.

Beds A through F are 4' x 6' and beds G through J are 4' x 8'. Four feet is the maximum width to allow for easy plant reach during planting and harvest. Beds I and J are in the foreground below.

Attached to the covered patio, Bed K used to be an herb bed but will now become an extra planting area where I plant whatever doesn't fit into the main beds. The perfect place to plant even more english peas.

This is the one bed that wasn't touched during the remodel so I was able to continue harvesting parsley and oregano during the construction. I also have a new herb bed that has been planted near my kitchen door. I always find myself running out into the garden to pick herbs when I'm cooking so this will make the run shorter. Here is the area off the kitchen before the remodel.

We've since replaced the concrete path with more grass and tucked in the herb bed in front of the side fence underneath the cherry plum tree that overhangs into our yard. I plan to plant honeysuckle along the fence for my daughter. It's her favorite snack in the summer.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Winter crop planting - weekend two

Thanks to my loving husband, I've been able to spend amazing amounts of time every weekend tending to the garden. He knows there are intense weeks and then weeks with nothing to do. This was one of those intense ones. He whisked off our daughter for lots of fun time with dad while I plugged away at mostly installing irrigation in the new beds ... my poor fingers and my back! This weekend started a little early with a Friday to myself planting the root vegetable beds, H and I. But first a check on my lovely olive tree, which I really, really need to repot. I naively bought a Mission olive when we first bought the house (one of the biggest olive varieties there is!) because I've always wanted an olive tree. I quickly realized I had no great place to plant it without blocking out all the sun. So for the meantime, it sits in a pot to keep it under wraps. It's so beautiful, I can't part with it!

Back to the beds. And the irrigation lines. So, so many irrigation lines to install. I wasn't too thrilled with the circular nature of the main tubing the gardeners laid out for me as a base but I'll have to live with it for this season. It really eats into my planting areas around the edges as you can see below. But at least no more tripping on tubing, it's all underground now!

These diagonal beds hold carrots, turnips, daikons and french breakfast radishes for now with more coming soon.

And then I moved onto the legume beds, well, two at least. The teepees will support even more english peas (I can never have enough of these): purple podded and Lincoln. Plus some spinach on the south side of the beds. My spinach grew so well last winter so I'm hoping I get lucky again. Favas will grow in the other legume bed and will be planted next weekend.

And my seeds from last weekend are already peeking their heads up. The Komatsuna I planted alongside the bok choi is doing well so far. It's sometimes called a spinach mustard and is a member of the turnip family. Throw the crop rotation out the window trying to classify that one!

We have two more figs ripening on the Black Jack fig tree this year.

And then there's the flower beds. So barren right now with only some baby agave and a leftover planting of Tall Telephone english peas around a teepee. There is so much work to do here and ideally, perennials and natives need to be planted right now!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Winter crop planting - weekend one

Time is of the essence now. With the first frost date happening now, I'm in a rush to plant as much as I can before it's too cold for seeds to germinate. I likely cut it too close due to the late start on the garden remodel, but they're mostly just seeds so I'll just be out a few dollars if they fail.

My favorite beds are 4'x8' long and situated close to the house. White and
yellow peach trees flank the north and south side of the beds with a new seating area beyond.
I've divided the ten raised beds (labeled A-J) into four rough quadrants for an annual crop rotation. I will also use the square foot gardening method for the majority of the beds. I've had a lot of success with it over the past two years even though people think I'm crazy when they see all the grid lines made with sticks. It works incredibly well, especially if you have a small garden. The rewards are higher plant production, fewer weeds, less water usage and an easier way to companion plant. It's become so popular that even the online garden design programs now offer it as an option when laying out beds.

Bed J: Alyssum on the corners (bees love this and I love the scent), chard and
bok choi in the middle. Broccoli di ciccio is along the back.
Bed J, above, was the first bed I planted. The bed diagonally to J, Bed G, is planted similarly but with different varieties of bok choi and chard. I bought starts of some of the chard and broccolis this year. All of the bok choi is from Kitazawa Seed Company, which specializes in Asian vegetables. I cook a lot of Japanese dishes so I can never have enough Asian ingredients to cook with.

Bed G in foreground: More alyssum, with different varieties of chard and bok choi in
middle with calabrese broccoli along the back. I couldn't resist buying some Romanesco
broccoli as well. I might have overdone it on the broccoli!
On the side of our property there was once a decrepit old arbor that hid a beautiful climbing tree that buzzes with bees during the height of summer. We kept the tree but we're still not exactly sure how this area will develop. For now, we've handed it over to our daughter. She asked me to make her a teepee of english peas, her favorite vegetable. She can't wait to sit inside it and eat peas off the vine. This will be another experiment as this area only has partial sun but we'll see what happens.

Tall Telephone english peas were planted around the teepee.
The beds I plant next weekend hold the root vegetables. Once again, cutting it close but these are all going to be seed planted.