Monday, May 21, 2007

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Gardening, gardening, gardening, gardening

I’ve been gardening. Or at least doing all the things people do when they want to start gardening. Many of these things require money and muscle, so it isn’t surprising that home food production has fallen to such a small percentage, nationally. Still, there is a sense of accomplishment.
I’ve just completed four main projects: digging out my first (of four) garden beds, planting two columnar apple trees, planting my huckleberry bush and setting up the lettuce raised beds.
Before I did any of those things, though, I bought some gardening clogs. I felt a bit silly and bourgeois doing this, but it turns out that I really like them. They sit outside on the patio and I slip them on to work in the yard, and off when I have to run inside.

Double Digging is double fun!
One book that is influencing my garden is How to Grow More Vegetables (than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine.) The book’s premise is that you can plant stuff in beds rather than rows and the closer spacing of the plants creates a micro climate that will benefit the plants. Doing this wears out the soil faster so it is important to grow compost crops which can then be converted into compost.
The first step to growing more vegetables is to double dig. There is a very nice explanation of this process here (scroll down to Double Digging.) How to Grow More Vegetables says that the double digging process only takes about an hour for an experienced person to dig 100 square feet. I had 45 square feet and was a beginner.
First, you prep the soil by watering it for 2 hours and then letting it sit for 1-2 days. That was easy enough. Then you take a digging fork and loosen the soil. I did this without wearing gloves and got my very first gardening blister.

Then it sits for a few more days. When it came time to do the actual double digging, it was fairly easy. I was worried that my soil was so clay-y that I wouldn’t be able to get the digging shovel in, but all that watering and sitting helped.

Here you can sort of see the layers. At the top is the soil that has been dug. The middle is soil that has been “forked” and the bottom is the undug soil with some phosphorous and lime on top of it.
All in all, the whole digging part took me about an hour. I was pleasantly sore the next day. The double digging really breaks up the soil and makes it more airy, but I have a long road ahead of me to break up all of that clay.
Remember about gardening taking money and muscle? Here is a picture of all the stuff I bought in one day to get these projects going. Eeek! Matt reminded me that we would be getting vegetables out of the process, but I remain a little worried that nothing will grow and this will end up being an expensive experiment.

Both the raised beds and the columnar apples required me to make some form of “dirt.” I used Mel’s Mix as outlined in Square Foot Gardening. (
Mel wanted me to make a mixture of 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 vermiculite. I figured out how much of everything I needed to fill two raised beds and 2 wine barrels and then set off to buy.
Mel lives in a world where price is no object.
I was supposed to get 16 cubic feet of vermiculite. Vermiculite costs about $30.00 for 4 cubic feet. I went with one bag. I couldn’t find peat moss at the first garden center I went to, and I ended up buying coconut fiber at the second, thinking they would have peat moss either. Except they did. The coconut fiber is a renewable resource, though so, a bit better. It was also a bit more expensive than I imagined so I got two bricks which were supposed to equal 8 square feet when opened and fluffed. I was going to get the compost from the City of Portland,
where you can get a cubic yard for $16.00, but forgot this fact in the overwhelming world of the gardening center and ended up buying 15 cubic feet of it in handy bags. It cost more than it would have been from Metro, but oh well. I’m learning.
You are supposed to dump out all three of the items on a tarp and then move the pile around the tarp until it is mixed.
The coconut fiber was a bit of a problem. The directions said open the package, break up the brick, water lightly and fluff to remove any clumps. Hah! I opened the package and started to break up the brick. It was mostly a solid mass. Not exactly break up able. Plus, it was a bit windy and the fibers I did remove from the mass blew away. After about 30 minutes of effort, I said “screw this,” pulled the tarp over the coconut fiber, put the bags of compost on top and left the whole thing there for two weeks while I lived my life.
I came back on Saturday and started again. I figured out that mixing 15 cubic feet of compost, 8 cubic feet of coconut fiber and 4 cubic feet of vermiculite would be easier if I did it a quarter at a time.
I think the coconut fiber sitting in the tarp for two weeks caused it to mellow a bit because it wasn’t quite so stubborn this time. I figured out that I could stand a chuck upright, and put weight on it. This would cause the chunk to come apart.

Then I added the compost and the vermiculite.

Then I mixed by dragging the tarp this way and that. This was kind of fun, because all the materials are light and you get to kick them around a little. And there you have "Patricia’s real world, price is an object," version of Mel’s Mix.

Apple Trees
I have a great book called McGee’s & Stucky’s the Bountiful Container which I bought with the gift card the Extension Service gave me when I quit. It’s all about container gardening and has a great section on fruit. I read about columnar apples and decided they would be perfect for the back yard. I bought two trees from Raintree Nursery. One is a Golden Sentinel and one is a North Pole variety. They came last week and I was too intimidated to plant them, so I plunged them in a bucket of water.
I planted them in these lovely whisky barrels my mother bought me which my brother transported.
The Bountiful container has a bunch of container layouts in the book and I followed the one for the columnar apple tree, planting Malabar spinach around the base—it’s supposed to grow up the tree and then chives and normal spinach alternating in a circle. The trees look a little stick-like, but will hopefully be happy in their new home.

Evergreen Huckleberry
We need something bushy out front. We have this amazing front porch, but right now it is a little too close to the sidewalk. I wanted some bush thing that would grow up a bit and provide a little bit of separation from the street. I also wanted something that would produce something to eat, as you might as well get some food out of your plants. I initially thought blueberry, but there is a large tree in the yard next door and a small tree, which will get bigger, out front. Blueberries need sun, so I needed something that would thrive in the shade.
I found the Evergreen Huckleberry. It doesn’t do well in sun, but in shade supposedly grows from 6-8 feet. It’s also supposed to be pretty. And it produces Huckleberries. It’s a little small now, and it is a bit slow growing, but someday, I think it will block our front porch a bit from the rest of the world. It’s that little tiny green thing in the middle.

Raised Beds
Chris and I had previously built raised beds. They were originally going to go in the back yard, four beds of 2X8 feet, but I decided I wanted the back yard garden bigger and instead decided to stack the four beds into two and put them on the North side of the house in hopes that lettuce will grow there as it doesn’t have a lot of sun.
To prepare the beds, I watered and then forked the soil. So much clay, I’m thinking they should have built our house out of adobe.

Then I put in all the remaining mix. I ran out, of course. So one bed is full and the other is a bit full. Guess I will get to buy some compost from the city anyway.

Now I am left to plant in the beds. I'll let you know how that goes.