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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You Know Fall is Here When Your Brocolli Blows Over & Your Cloche Blows Away

This is what happens when you don't use UV protected plastic. Actually, this sheet lasted all summer and was cheap, so I'm happy I got a summer season out of it. I figure I can now change out the cloche cover to Reemay for the the winter.

Roland and I were out of town for the weekend, and when we came back, this plastic destruction we found plastic destruction. Apparently, a strong wind blew through during the weekend that also managed to break off some sunflower heads, blow over several of the very top heavy Purple Sprouting broccoli plants and ultimately shred the plastic on our tomato cloche. Luckily, I had just done a major prune job on the tomatoes, so they were situated below and behind the broccoli that acted like a wind screen - sort of like Bolleana poplars in a farm field.

Fall brings out the nesting side of me, where I just want to sit in front of a fire and knit or make all sorts of soups and stews. Luckily, we've had good bean, potato and onion crops, just the ingredients for soups and stews. We've been pulling out a few carrots and I can probably salvage some of the celery that got rather shaded out from the broccoli takeover. It's good to have a ready supply of soup making ingredients out of the garden by Fall.

I've just gotten a variety of winter seeds delivered from Territorial Seed Company in which I've started to plant for starts such as cabbage and root crops. As soon as the tomatoes are Tango Uniform, I plan to plant garlic and leafy greens under the cloche. The Reemay should allow the rain through, but keep the frost off and protect the crops from crushing snow, assuming we get some in this Pacific North Wet climate. Our snow is often referred to as 'Cascade Concrete' as it comes down wet and heavy and packs into sheets of glare ice. Any snow balls that happen to find their way to your head, without the protection of a helmet, can cause a concussion.

The squirrels predict a cold and wet winter this year. They've started to scurry about early this season, gathering nuts and seeds while sometimes unsuccessfully dodging cars. The trees are rapidly changing colors and the Katsuras seemed to have dropped their leaves early this year. Fall is my favorite time of the year as I love the leaf colors and the crisp hint in the air. This summer has been colder and wetter than normal, weather which has also extended into September, the time of year that is usually our Indian Summer: Warm days and crisp nights and many a blue sky day. Indian Summers give one last boost to crops and rain free gardening days to harvest and clean out the garden beds. By mid-October it's all over.

Of course, the tell tale indicator of Autumn is the Harvest Moon. The Equinox is this Thursday, September 23rd, and the moon will be full that night. Looking out my living room window, the sky is clear enough to see the moon in its almost full stage. Other names for the Harvest Moon are 'Gypsy Moon', 'Wine Moon', 'Elk Call Moon' and 'Singing Moon'. We actually get to experience a 'Blue Moon' this year. It occurs on November 21st. It's an additional moon cycle (designated as the 3rd moon as the 4th moon cycle is referred to as the 'Late Moon') within a season and doesn't occur very often, thus the saying, "Once in a Blue Moon." The next one isn't until 2013.

So, I'm taking advantage of this rare window of decent weather and tending to the final crops, getting the beds ready for Fall planting and making sure that the garden structures are, if anything, wind proof. Then it's to the kitchen to freeze extras and make soups and stews to get through the pending dark, cold months. I might even do some canning as the tomatoes are finally getting ripe.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ball & Burlap: The Ties that Bind and Break Our Backs

Every so often, I get this incredible desire to live vicariously through someone else's garden. Well, I was in such a mood the other week when I was helping my friend Nancy with her business and said, "Gee Nancy, while I'm up here why don't we take advantage of this opportunity and do a plant nursery tour and possibly get some trees and shrubs for your yard."

Nancy, and her husband Jim have several acres in the county outside of Bellingham. They also needed some landscaping help; their yard consisted of arborvitae and rhododendrons in full sun. OK, to be fair, there are some Japanese maples and small conifers next to the front entrance to the house.

She agreed that her yard needed some livening up. Jim reiterated on several occasions that that their yard is paved with good intentions because Nancy has killed many a potted nursery specimen by not getting to the 'planting it in the ground' part. So, the agreement was that whatever we got, I had to help her plant it. No problem. Part two of the agreement consisted of not planting anywhere that would interfere with Jim's plans for that spot and to make sure that what we plant in the lower turf area likes very wet feet, as the ground is very waterlogged much of the year. Other than that, we could do what we wanted, in which I interpreted spend what we wanted. Nancy, though, is a bit of a fiscal conservative and had a budget in mind.

So, off we went to explore the nurseries with a list of trees and shrubs that I thought would work well in her yard and (I have to admit) were some of my favorites. The first place we went to, Cloud Mountain Nursery, near Everson, was not far from her house. It's a grower operation, so the prices were really good. Many of the large trees were under $100. We picked out a Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum), Katsura (Cercidiphyllum Japonicum), Double-File Viburnum (Vibernum plicatum var. tomentosum), and a Golden Dawn Redwood (Metasaquoia glyptostroboides spp.) that happened to be half off because it was so root bound. Nancy, (having a Human Services background) felt compelled to save that tree. This nursery didn't have any Bald Cypresses (Taxodium distichum) for the mushy parts of the yard, so she paid for what we picked out and put them in will-call. Off we went to Kent's Garden and Nursery on Northwest Road.

Kent's had the Bald Cypress, but Nancy chose to hold off on those at the moment. Instead, she found the clearance section and ended up with 3 Western Red Cedars, a Montpilier Maple (Acer monspessulanum), and several Smoke Trees (Continus coggygria). The next day we explored Bear Creek Nursery, south of town. This nursery is situated in a most lovely setting among Douglas Fir trees. They also had the signature tree we were looking for: Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia'. However, while we were walking around, Nancy became very adamant about not buying anything that day. Every time I showed her a cool looking plant, her reaction was, "I'm not buying anything today!" in between, "Did we get that yet?" However, after an hour of proclamations, she was the proud owner of the Frisia Locust and a lovely Japanese maple.

Nancy spent the week picking up her finds with the family pick-up and I came up this last weekend to help her plant them all per our agreement. I also brought up several free specimens that I had procured from various sources that would have been to big for my yard.

Of all the days to plant, we picked the one day all summer that would rain all day! In fact, the weather went from a soggy drizzle to a down pour then back to a soggy drizzle, never completely stopping. But, that was the day we could both plant, so we got on our ad-hoc rain togs and out we went with shovels in hand.

We started with the Katsuras, which were still sitting in the back of the pick up. Nancy had originally purchased one, but when she went to pick up her plants, she purchased another one being enchanted by their amazing fall foliage. They were in ball and burlap, but you couldn't tell, as the root ball had busted through from sitting in the nursery mulch and became this mass of tangled roots and mulch a good 36" in diameter. Of course the things also weighed the earth! And of course the nursery loaded them into the pick-up with a fork lift, a luxury we didn't have. Luckily, Nancy and Jim own a riding lawn mower with a small dump trailer attachment. So, with the reluctant help of the fellas, we all heaved the things over, one tree at a time and rolled them off the truck bed onto the mower trailer and then gently dumped them near where they were to get planted. The rest of the operation would involve bruit girly force as the men retreated to the basement man cave to play with power tools. Wimps.

In digging very large holes, we were getting sufficiently wet and muddy as the rain began to come down in torrents. I found myself blindly swinging a Mattock while looking through dripping, steaming glasses (a foot down into the ground lay hard pan - gotta love NW glacial till!). I finally gave up with the glasses and stuffed them into a pocket. I figured I could see better without them. I gave up on my hood as it was restricting my movement, so lived with dripping hair. The weather wasn't that cold, just very wet and I was actually sweating from excursion. While peeling back the burlap around the roots, I tried to remove some metal ties, but proceeded to break the handle on Roland's Mattock and had to borrow Jim's (with instructions not to break it). Nancy brought out some wire cutters to remove the metal clips from their grip and we managed to spread out the burlap after rolling the trees into their respective holes. Of course, the holes are never deep enough when you think they are, so the whole exercise involved a sort of an sizing procedure, pulling out the trees, picking and digging a deeper pit, adding compost and then dragging the trees back into the pit, twisting and turning them so the best side faces the out and then filling in the holes. Tape measures would have instantly useless in this weather. We improvised with shovel handles and thumbs for measurements. An hour later, we had planted our first two trees.

After the Katusuras, planting got a little easier as we developed a rhythm and a certain soggy level of efficiency. Plus the potted stuff weighed less. We took turns with the pick and shovel and Nancy became the official compost bag schlep. I would move on to the next hole, while Nancy filled in the current one. The fellas were having a great time from their dry location under the deck, shouting at us their occasional opinions and advice such as, "It's crooked."

After the Katsuras, we planted an iddy-biddy Red Bud (Cercis canadensis) along the same row. The hole actually became somewhat wide as we had to put landscape edging around it so Mr. Jim would mow it down. Next came the Dawn Redwood out at the top of the field where the ground wasn't too soggy and would drain. After that we planted a conifer of questionable pedigree. Nancy was told that it was a Douglas Fir, but Roland thought it was something else because the needles weren't Doug Fir needles. Regardless, it was one of the examples of good intentions and needed to get into the ground.

The best gardening tool I've ever purchased has to be my Hori Hori. I've used that knife for weeding and in this case, for rescuing roots bound like a Chinese woman's foot. I carried it right next to my pruners in which as the day wore on, weighed my elastic waist banded pants down around my knees as the rain soaked in and they became as heavy as lead. Really, I don't know how rappers can walk. Also, I was fearing the plumber's southern exposure. Because I was having to pull them up with wet, muddy gloves on, my bloomers underneath were getting a natural earthy patina. The optimist in me didn't consider bringing rain pants, but I would have sweated like a sauna in them anyway. My water proof garden clogs filled with water. I was sloshing around in saturated wool socks, rubber garden clogs, with my britches around my knees, digging holes in the pouring rain in order to help my friend plant 100 pound trees. This was my idea and I was loving every minute of it.

Nancy thought she'd fair better having tucked her pants into rubber boots. Her pants just wicked the water right down into the boots and she was sloshing around by mid day. Plus her back side got sufficiently soaked having sat on a mower seat exposed to the elements.

We systematically planted the Smoke trees, Mock Orange and Maples right along the fence, having to move a good 4 inches of mulch, cut the landscape cloth and netting from the former sod and dig into more sand and clay (that looked the color of baby poo), add compost then plant the trees and move the mulch back in place. Next came the Locust.

We planted this tree in the upper yard next to the fence and in front of a mass of Douglas Firs that were leftovers from an old Christmas tree farm. The beautiful gold foliage of the Frisia just pops in front of the dark green of the conifers. It's the tree your eyes immediately go to when approaching the house. The location was a mother to plant in as the ground was hard and full of large rocks. We had to really amend the soil well and add additional water as, unlike other areas of the yard, this spot was pretty dry.

The fellas became rather impressed as they thought we would wimp out for sure and request their assistance. Upon the risk of never living it down, we did get the fellas to take a tree saw to some of the higher branches on the firs to make room for the locust to grow. They looked like they needed something to do as they couldn't continue with their project in the wet weather. Nancy and I felt sorry for them.

After planting the 3 cedars, we transplanted a Japanese Laceleaf maple that had been 'temporarily' planted in with its pot for several years and had manged to root through the drain holes. After finally planting the last Japanese maple we considered our day done - after clean up. When the last tool got cleaned and put away, the rain stopped.

We planted or transplanted 18 trees and shrubs in all, starting our day at around 9:30 in the morning and stopping at 5:30. We never took a lunch break nor for me, a potty break as I knew I would never be able to get my rain and mud soaked britches back up and gloves back on. We stripped in the appropriately named 'mud room' and headed straight for the shower.

During dinner that evening, Nancy proclaimed, "I'm never going shopping with Debra again!"

I replied, "You lie like a rug. Besides, we still need to get the Bald Cypresses, Mountain Ashes, and Kousa dogwood, never mind transplanting some of the rhodies behind the Frisia and moving those Daphnes to a sunny location."

I also have endless ideas for her birthday now and nurseries offer gift certificates.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Tomato Entropy Produces Fruit Apathy

Here in the Pacific Northwest it's been a crappy year for tomatoes. The temperature fluctuations have been bi-polar, going from 85 degrees one day, dropping down to 65 degrees the next. Yesterday had clear, hot weather and today it's overcast and drizzling at times. We often get Indian summers around here where our nicest weather is in September. August can be a very wet month at times. The PNW insider joke is that our summers start July 5th, except this year it's been a series of false starts.

I've kept the tomatoes in a cloche all summer long and most are still green. My cherry tomatoes are turning red; less surface area to ripen, I guess. It's a good thing that we like fried green tomatoes.

Despite the tomato inclement weather, there's a lot of entropy going on under that cloche. I've pinched and pinched and pinched stems back and I think it has only encouraged them. I need to bring a machete with me next time I go in there, as my hair gets caught in the foliage and I can't turn around on the path unless I duck. The branches are starting to burst out of the ends. For a piler, 'indeterminate' really means entropy.

Since the tomatoes are next to the Purple Sprouting broccoli bed, perhaps they're getting vibes to get uber big and put out small amounts of ripe fruit. If my theory is correct, I should have plenty of ripe tomatoes by December, when the broccoli is technically ready for harvest. However, there is that little frost problem. I'm hoping someone eventually produces a tomato variety that is hardy to 10 degrees. That person would become rich.