Backyard Recap 2017

This yard has come a long way in one year’s time. When I look at where I started compared to where I am now I am quite satisfied. So many of my goals for the year seemed very much out of reach at times. Starting with having the 7 trees removed. I had no budget for that and feel it was truly the universe conspiring with me that brought 2 different couples to my home to collect them. One couple became my friends. They are very knowledgeable on topics that interest me and share my passion for growing food.

They are the ones that gave me the papaya trees I mentioned in a previous post. Once the trees were removed there were tons of large branches littering the yard. They were mostly collected together into large brush piles and there they sat for a month or so as I puzzled over how to handle them. We considered hiring a tree trimming company to come collect them and chip them up, leaving us the wood chips to mulch with but we balked at the $400 quote for such work. Eventually it dawned on me to use them for trellises, the chicken run, hueglekultur, and bed edging.

Another hurtle I surmounted was mulching over the entire backyard. Our lot is about 1/2 an acre, obviously a portion of that space is covered by our home and a small front yard, but most of it is backyard space. It has taken well over 120 bags of leaves and about 8 dump truck loads of wood chips to get it covered and smother all the grass out. The saying “Eating an elephant one bite at a time” was my approach. I focused on certain areas as mulching materials were collected/available. I am able to collected bagged leaves and grass clipping to my heart’s content twice a week. Wood chips were a lot less consistently available. A few times I was able to get loads dumped by tree trimmers working nearby, a few loads came through signing up on chipdrop.com, and recently some tree trimmers agreed to drop a couple loads and ended up dropping 4 back to back. This was overwhelming to say the least, it usually takes 8 hours to move 1 load and between the hecticness of the holiday season and getting sick several times, I struggled to find the time and energy. In fact our driveway still has about half a load that I am chipping at in 30 minute increments. The goal is to be finished by the new year…

Then I will focus on collecting more bagged leaves. I also want to attempt collecting compostable stuff from restaurants like coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable refuse. Because now that I have settled on a layout for growing beds and pathways, I can now focus on building soil in those raised beds. The easiest way I know of is to dump all raw materials in place and let them compost in place. When I plant those beds in the spring I will pull the composting materials back so that the roots of the plantings are in contact with the soil. This is a combination of the methods of lasagna gardening and deep mulching. It worked to remarkable success in the new beds I filled with wood chips last Spring. I had excellent crops of melons, peas, and okra in less than 6 month old ramial wood chips. My expectations were low to begin with, and admittedly not much else did well in the wood chips, but I believe things will only improve with time, especially since I will be topping beds with good compost mixed with aged chicken manure. I’m pretty excited for the Spring Garden. I’ve already planted plenty of cold hardy crops. I’ve had several set backs with those, but I have some successes as well. Setbacks involve seedling munching chickens and pill bugs if you are curious.

I’ve just ordered lots of new seeds. I want to have flowers everywhere for the bees and the beauty. And I plan to start tomatoes in a week or so. I think the reason I didn’t get any tomatoes this past summer is that I started seeds about 2 months too late and night temperatures were too high to set fruit. Anyway here is a picture where we started and another what it looks like today. I am aware that all the brown is not impressive or attractive, however to me it looks like pure potential and excellent progress for year 1 on my 5 year timeline.

Tree planting time!

I’ve basically went nuts buying trees since January! Probably exceeded my budget for plants and seeds by at least 100%. Whatever money I saved on my free wattle edging and craigslist tree removal trade, I have blown through buying trees. A list of all the trees, shrubs, and bushes:

  1. 3 Blueberry bushes, assorted varieties, from Wabash Feed and Supply, they were maybe $20-25 each, I may have overpaid… I have had at least 2 previously purchased in years past die on me, another one from last year isn’t quite dead but it’s on the ropes… blueberries seem to be tricky, I haven’t thrown in the towel yet, I planted them in half peat moss half potting soil and will be applying sulfur and fertilizer in the 4th quarter…
  2. 2 blackberry vines, bare root, Wabash for maybe $8-12, one is Kiowa and the other is Natchez, I also have an unknown variety from Sprouts last year that was not doing well at all, but I moved it and gave it a little TLC and it seems to be doing much better.
  3. 3 Cherry of the Rio Grande- got these at the annual Urban Harvest tree sale, $12 each, tastes and looks like cherry but not, its something that thrives in our subtropical climate, most  real cherry trees need far too many chill hours to be productive here. I’ve heard Royal Lee and a few other low- chill variety cherries may do well here, so perhaps next year…
  4. Passionfruit- also from Urban Harvest, $12, died a few weeks after purchase, maybe it was too cold, it had one fruit on it, I bought passionflower seeds from Lowes, hopefully I will have some success
  5.  Saiyo persimmon- Urban Harvest apx. $40, leafing out at the moment, astringent variety, really hope to have more persimmon than I could possibly eat one day
  6. Caroline Raspberry- Urban Harvest tree sale $12, supposed to do good in our climate, most raspberries don’t, we shall see
  7. Dorsett Golden Apple $25 from JRN Nursery, bought bare root, low chill variety
  8. Anna Apple $25 from JRN Nursery, pollinator for the Dorsett
  9. Hachiya Persimmon $35 JRN Nursery, bare root, another astringent variety, I am guessing the birds and other critters won’t bother with them especially if I pick them before they ripen
  10. Kishu Seedless Mandarin- bought for maybe $25 at annual Agrilife Tree Sale
  11. Arbequina Olive Tree- bought for maybe $25 at annual Agrilife Sale, not sure exactly what I was thinking…
  12. 150 Strawberry Plants, $60 from Stark Bros., Ozark Everbearing, AllStar, and Sequoia’s
  13. Ichi-ki-kei-jiro Persimmon, $20 bare root from Stark Bros
  14. 3 Anne Yellow Raspberry, $15 for 3 bare root from Stark Bros., supposed to do well in our climate
  15. All in One Almond tree, $32 bare root from Stark Bros., not sure what I was thinking on this one…
  16. Fry Muscadine Grape, $12 bare root from Stark Bros., not leafing out yet, but I see buds so fingers crossed
  17. 3 banana, an apple, icecream, and I forget the other type. I already have a dwarf cavendish and another icecream, they froze down to the ground but shot back up several weeks ago.
  18. 3 papayas, Free from the nice guy who took the Cypress tree
  19. Sapodilla, JRN
  20. Malikka Mango, JRN
  21. Neem tree, JRN
  22. nagami kumquat, JRN
  23. 2 Cape Jasmine, JRN
  24. Persian Lime, JRN, the one from last year died so I hope to keep this one alive
  25. 2 mayhaw trees from Caldwell Nursery, $15 each, I need 2 for cross pollination, I now have 4 total, because 2 sprouted from seeds lying on top of the pot.
  26. Angel Face Rose, I bought one bare root on clearance last year and it didn’t make it, I bought this one seemingly potted and seemingly thriving at Lowe’s for around $25, they are lavendar with a slight lemony scent from what I’ve read…
  27. 2 Mulberry trees from Ty Ty, an online store
  28. 3 Hickory Nut trees from Ty Ty as well
  29. Pecan from my grandmothers 1st cousin, Sweet lady who is 90 or close to it named Ruby Nell, I visited her garden last week, I will do a post and take pics, she had a massive mulberrry tree that inspired me to order the ones I got…
  30. sweet Meiwei kumquat, JRN, I bought this today after it was recommended to me, it is much sweeter than the nagami
  31. Sunraycer nectarine $15 from Costco, they had a ton of trees, apple, pear, peach and nectarines for $15, the nectarine was all I saw among those that had low chill hours. They also had a very wide selection of citrus for $25 each, I already have all the citrus I am currently interested in.

So far I’m at 46 and counting, add to that the 7 or so trees/bushes that made it from last year. I am sure I have forgotten something and needless to say I am utterly overwhelmed at all I have to plant, I will have to plant 5 trees a day for the next week if I want to get them all in by the end of the 3rd quarter of the moon. Thats another post as well, gardening by the moon… Anyhow, I think I’ll go take a quick lap around the garden so I can get my thoughts together for tomorrow’s work!

 

Bantams!

I went to Seabreeze Hens on Wednesday and picked out 10 silkies, 4 d’uccle, and 4 sebrights. Originally I intended to only get about 6, but since they are straight run I figure it’s possible half are males and I won’t be keeping those. The owner said I can return the males if I can’t re-home them. It has been such a joy to watch the sweet little chicks run around and snuggle down together. I have been outside catching mosquitoes for them, simply for the pleasure of hand feeding them and watching them chase each other around for them. Today I put a little bowl of play sand so they can get some grit and dust bathe. They are not even 2 weeks old yet, so not sure if they are ready for all that. Anyhow, here is a picture,

Wicket fencing

My gardening budget is non existent at the moment, I regularly “steal” money from other places in my budget to buy plants and supplies. For example, today I spent about $30 on soil amendments like sulfur, blood meal, and cottonseed meal. I also found good quality drip line for 75% off, so I got about 300 ft for only $25! When gardening one must always think ahead especially when establishing a new planting area. So even though it is currently only 32 degrees outside I am desperately trying to get my new beds prepped and somewhat settled by planting time in mid March. One major hurdle in building raised bed is containing it. Cinderblocks are easy and long lasting and definitely the least expensive when considering cement or stone edging. Wood fence pickets are pretty easy to construct into boxes and are less expensive even than the cinderblocks, but even being cedar they are prone to rot over time and limit the shape of the beds to rectilinear shapes. Wattling, weaving long thin branches is an old technique that cost nothing and can make pretty much any shape. The technique is super simple, stick branches in the ground where you want the edge and weave long thin branches around those sticks. Fortunately, a lot of people do their yearly crape murdering right around now and I’ve had access to an unlimited amount of long straight sticks. I love the rustic natural look,  that I can vary the height gradually so that one area can be deeper than others, for deep rooted veggies, and that the edging will slowly decompose as the roots develop enough to keep the soil from eroding away.

The Mess that is my backyard.

Pink Eureka Lemon tree dropped all its leaves after the frost but I see a few new leaves budding out thank God!

Found these on the curb on trash day, cram packed with aloe vera, repotted several of the and discarded the freeze damaged ones.

Red onions in the ground, red and green longevity greens, and a pot of carrots, also in the background potted tulip bulbs shooting up

3 papayas I was gifted by the kind fella that cut down the cypress, they were in one pot and I separated them and they lost a leaf or two but new ones are budding out, I have my fingers crossed

Badly freeze damaged persian lime, I hope it’s not a goner…

A man from Craigslist dropped one of the cedars on the west fence, supposed to drop another and take the wood today, fingers crossed

Not sure if this is a peach or plum, bought both for $12 each at Sprouts, not much info was given and I didn’t know any better. One of them died due to planting too deep and getting waterlogged.

Anna apple tree looking lovely, planted 3 weeks ago bare root

Golden Dorsett apple

One extra full dump truck of fresh ramial pine chips

Cypress stump

I’ve collected well over 100 bags of leaves from the curbs throughout my neighborhood

A little patch of purple carrots

Potatoes looking quite prosperous surrounding a lone horseradish plant, I heard they make potatoes taste even better

Lemon tree that my neighbor’s B-I-L started from seed, 2 freeze damaged banana trees, one is icecream banana and the other is dwarf cavendish

Hamlin Orange dropped all its leaves after freeze but leafing out beautifully!

3 cherries of the rio grande, saijo persimmon, arbequina olive, and kishu mandarin

Planting in Woodchips

As I mentioned previously, I received 2 dumptruck loads of free wood chips from a company that was trimming trees around my neighborhod. I spread those chips in the new raised annual beds. That was in December, and now that it is January I figure if I want to plant in March I will have to amend the chips heavily with nitrogen to speed the decomposition process.

As an experiment I have been adding approximately two 5 gallon buckets of kitchen scraps and one 5 gallon bucket of urine soaked wood chips to one 4×4 area weekly for the past month, in another 4×4 area I added 2.75 lbs of bloodmeal about 2 weeks ago, in another 4×4 area I added 7 40 lb bags of composted manure (the type you buy at Home Depot for about $1.50), and in another 4×4 area I will be adding pure nitrogen. I covered each area with dry leaves to slow denitrification of the “soil” to the atmosphere.

  I have about 500 sq ft of wood chip beds to convert to soil by March. I will plant in approximately 6 weeks.  This first picture is the kitchen scrap/urine soaked wood chip amended area. The chips under the leaves is nice and moist but still pretty chunky after a few weeks.

The manure amended area is less chunky and more crumbly, but probably because the manure itself is crumbly and I added a pretty large volume of it.

Finally the blood meal area seems to be decomposing very rapidly although still chunky. When I pulled back the leaves there was just the faintest curl of steam rising from it.

Anyway, I am considering using pure nitrogen from the garden center since it is cheaper than bloodmeal and essentially the same thing. I am treating the wood chips similarly to the way one would in a strawbale garden, conditioning  it with moisture and fertilizer. The only difference is I will be conditioning over 6 weeks instead of 2. The increased time hopefully offset the increased chunkies of material. The straw breaks down much faster than wood chip I assume. Although these woodchips are breaking down relatively quickly since they were mixed in with lots of leaves and we’ve had lots of rain and warm weather (upper 70s and 80s in midwinter). 

New Year!

I have never entered a new year and already had so many new things in the works! This backyard permaculture project has my head swarming with projects, I’m a little overwhelmed and a lot excited about the things the new year will bring concerning that. First off, I am fairly confident I am getting 3 or 4 chickens and at least one bee hive! I’ve been researching that intensively for the past couple of weeks. Last week I just so happened to meet a lady at the park who already has chickens and she gave me so much confidence to just go ahead and do it. The funny thing is that earlier that day I procured some salvaged wood from my in-laws and was planning on building a chicken coop with it even if I didn’t get chickens anytime soon, so meeting her felt kind of serendipitous. As far as building a beehive, I am a little intimidated by it because my woodworking skills are very basic, and the hives I’ve seen all have box joints and rabbets and all those other fancy woodworking details that I have never really attempted, even though I have the tools to do it. I took my grandfathers old table saw over a year ago and haven’t even reassembled it yet. One of my goals for 2017 is to face that down and also at least use the box joint jig I bought at a thrift store 3 years ago.

Then we have the issue of composting. I have a pretty sizeable  backyard that is mostly clay. My goal is to amend it with as much compost and humus as I can get. I have been taking bagged leaves from the curb throughout the neighborhood, currently have at least 50 and still counting. I also got two truckloads of mulch from a tree trimming company that was on my street. I spread most of the mulch where the raised annual beds will be, dumped some of the leaves where the bee hives will be and kept most of them bagged and outlining where the orchard will be. I had the utilitiy companies come mark where all the lines were, so I would know where I couldn’t dig. Today we will go look for some red wiggler worms, I want to do vermicomposting for the kitchen scraps. In addition to the chicken manure I also plan to collect humanure, and this is where I usually lose every single person who was previously on board. But the fact is, I do find it a little absurd that we piss and poop in clean bowls of water and then flush it away where it joins everybody elses pee and poop in a giant slimy disgusting mess. I feel much more comfortable knowing that I am composting my own mess into something that will benefit the garden. Ideally I would like to create no waste.  I will probably only dress the orchard trees with it, seeing that I will have lots of compost for the annual beds from the worms and chickens, that should assure some of the people who gag at the thought (my husband).

Anyway, I am off to find worms, I will come back to post pics if I find them!

 

Backyard Permaculture

One of the non-negotiable things I wanted when we were looking for a house was a big back yard. I had a vague idea that I would grow lots of food and pretty flowers, and that everyone would love spending time out there. There would be a variety of fruit trees, raised irrigated beds for annual crops, and a treehouse/playscape for the kids. We ended up getting a house sitting on a little under half an acre with a smallish front yard and and a big back yard that measures about 170’x80′!  Plenty of room to make my garden dreams come true! Except at first I was a bit overwhelmed and didn’t know where to begin.

Figuring out how to integrate all the components I want in this space has been a challenge for me and I’ve put a lot of thought into it over the past 4 years and feel pretty good about moving forward with all the major projects that creating this garden will entail.To get a good visual on where the space is headed I drew up this schematic:wp-image-1126340518jpg.jpg

The semi-enclosed area will have a small patch of grass bordered by beds that will contain a small raised bed for annual crops, some fruit trees, flowering bushes, lots of herbs, and various groundcovers. As you move back you come upon several large raised beds for annual crops and to the left of that where you see all the x-marks are potential fruit trees which will comprise the orchard. Directly behind the orchard will be a planting area for tall grassy crops like corn, sugar cane, buckwheat, etc… Around the huge oak tree we will build a treehouse and have a natural playscape area underneath and around it (the pink area).

I have been studying the fundamentals of permaculture and the methods of lasagna gardening, deep mulching, backyard orchard culture, and hueglekultur and have devised a course of action that will use them all to eliminate most of the grass that currently covers about 80% of the yard. These methods will work together to create lots of fertile planting areas and a clear “forest floor” for paths and play areas. Simply put, I will lay down cardboard to smother the grass and layer compost/manure with grass clippings and leaves to create rich friable soil teeming with healthy micro-organisms.    Above is a picture of the semi-enclosed garden area when we first moved in. I thought it was really beautiful but it was all ornamental plants (except for a minimally productive blackberry vine). Most of the plantings needed to be tended with rather intensive and frequent thinning and pruning sessions or it would become quite wild. Also there was a small in-ground pond that required regular maintenance and was a hazard for small children. The dazzling gumtree is shading the raised beds too severely and is encroaching on what will be the orchard. It will be removed before spring, I will miss watching the leaves change from one electric color to another before finally dropping in the early winter. Maybe I will find a place for another one in the very back.

     And here is the semi-enclosed area today. My main focus has been outlining the new beds and laying cardboard down. I have topped the cardboard with a layer of mulch for now and as I plant things I will amend the soil in those spots specifically. I have already planted a lemon, lime, persimmon, and avocado tree in this space and built a small raised bed along one of the walls. I am currently trying to figure out how to place all the shrubs, bushes , herbs, and groundcover in a way that will deter mosquitoes, look beautiful , and make for easy harvesting of the frequently used edibles like herbs, onions, garlic, lemons, and limes.

    All of this will take time. I can only collect materials and plants as my budget allows and creating healthy soil certainly can’t be done overnight. Even if I were to till the ground  and amend it heavily, it still takes time for the bio-environment to develop and stabilize in the soil. This layering/hueglekultur/deep mulching method is simply mimicking nature and nature works at her own pace. Part of the reason I am documenting this is because I know over time it is easy to forget how far you’ve come, right now all those little pots look pretty spare but they will eventually lush out. looking back always encourages me to continue moving forward.

Early Summer Veggie Garden

Here are a few pics of the veggie garden beds, they look pretty wild, and I have a few issues with bugs, viruses, and shade but have collected lots of bush beans, tomatoes, mustard greens, anda couple cucumbers. I don’t have much time to put into the garden to remedy my issues, it’s been raining ALOT and  I have to keep turning off the drip irrigation timer. I try to go out there for 5 minutes or so everyday to pick weeds and harvest. My neighbor sourced some straw from a friend’s farm and I am really intrigued with deep mulching methods. Unfortunately the hay had seeds in it so weeds are popping up, I try to pull them so they don’t go to seed and become a continuous problem. In the fall I plan to mulch with shredded leaves since we have leaves in abundance with all the trees.

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Speaking of trees, I have a sweet gum tree whose leaves are a radiant kaleidoscope of color in the fall that I adore but is shading the beds from the west and my neighbor has a lovely pecan tree shading my garden on the east. My neighbor actually kindly trimmed some of the branches that were hanging over the beds yesterday. Nonetheless, I will probably have the gum tree removed next spring and build even more raised beds. Ultimately, I want a backyard that is low maintenance, high yield and keep all the trees to the periphery. I already have peach, plum, 2 banana, and an orange tree back there so don’t feel too guilty for eventually removing some mature trees that are problematic for the vegetable garden. We will still have plenty of mature trees in the very back of yard. That won’t b3 until next spring though, when our landscaping budget recovers. Anyway, here are a few more pics of the veggie beds, I had to snap them quick, the mosquitoes were swarming!

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Seedlings and Sprouts

So its been about 3 weeks since I last posted update on the new raised garden beds.  I didn’t have the mental clarity to be super organized and plant according to the square foot gardening method and really just tried to plant stuff in a reasonably spaced way (but still intensively).
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The bed on the left side, Station 1, has 5 zones, approximately 4 sq. ft each and numbered 1-5, front to back.  In zone 1 I have some mustard greens, and a few random seedlings that I haven’t taken the time to identify exactly, zone 2- yellow squash, eggplant, and cucumber, zone 3-crimson sweet watermelon, zone 4- abe lincoln tomato and cucumber, zone 5- tightly packed corn that I have staggered 3 batches by 2 weeks difference, I would say approximately 30-35 corn in 4 sq. ft.
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The bed on the right side, Station 2, also has 5 zones, but the front one is 4 sq ft, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th zone are 4’x6′, and the 5th zone is actually the part connecting to Station 1 way in the back, it is 2’x4′. Zone 1 is compost, Zone 2 is sweet potatoes, small white potatoes, and red potatoes, Zone 3 is All Sweet watermelon, and Zone 4 is Peppers, Okra, and Eggplant, Zone 5 is Zucchini and Tomato.
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Some of the seeds may not have come up or been poorly so I plucked them up when I was thinning. Being inexperienced I am not sure what is what, and will just wait and see. I’ve been mulching with grass clippings and currently need to spread it thinner. I plan to mulch the potatoes with mostly leaf mold as soon as its dry enough to rake some up in the back of my yard. We have had extremely heavy rain on a regular basis here in Houston for the month of April and I have turned off the drip irrigation for the most part.

In the next few weeks I will continue mulching and will be putting together some type of trellis structure for most of the trailing vegetables. I hope to use mostly tree branches from some pruning we did to our mature trees to build them and possibly twine or metal wire. I have already spent so much money on soil and amendments this year that I would like to not spend another penny on those garden beds this year, I may have to get creative:)