Friday, April 24, 2015

Is your dream to go from this kind of yard:
Right after cutting down the Arborvitae hedge that separated the front yard from the side yard
To this kind of yard?

But you have never grown anything more than a houseplant.  Or had patio tomatoes once or twice.  But you want to be serious about growing your own food and utilizing your outdoor space (rented or owned) to do so.  How do you do it?

Last weekend one of my young neighbors saw me out in the yard planting some starts, and called out to me, “How do you grow all this?”.  She said they had tried to plant a few things the year before, but the plants all died, or were dug up by an animal, and nothing worked.  We talked for a bit then, and she came over the following weekend and spent some time with me.  I realized talking to her how difficult this all might seem to someone who has no background in gardening.  

I was fortunate to have parents and grandparents who gardened, canned and preserved produce, and received a lot of my training growing up.  I had children who were also interested in eating fresh vegetables and fruit, who did school projects in hydroponics, grew their own herbs, studied books about permaculture, food forests, and other terms I am not familiar with – who I have learned from.  

Hydroponic lettuce (in gutters)

But my neighbor was asking me basic questions like, “how do you know how much to water?”  What kind of soil should I use?  Should I build raised beds or not?  There is no easy answer, because it depends on your own particular situation.  Do you own or rent?  What is the PH of your soil?  What kinds of plants do you want to grow?  How much should you grow?  Enough to just eat fresh, or enough to eat fresh and can too?

You can spend several hundred dollars on buying gardening books ( or wait in line for them at the library).  The books my son needed to purchase for his permaculture certification alone were several hundred dollars.  Then you need to read through all of them, digest all the info and apply it to your situation.  You can get a soil test kit, or send away for a soil test, but then you have to interpret the results and figure out how to make the changes that need to be made.

Or, you can hire a gardening coach to do an assessment and help you create a plan for what you want to do.  If you don’t have prior experience in gardening and are serious about growing your own food, you will ultimately save a lot of time and money by doing this.  If you live in the Western Washington State, I can recommend a start-up company that does this.  I have to admit that they are related to me – they are my daughter, her husband and my son.  They all have other jobs, but they are so passionate about helping other people to be self-sufficient in growing their own food, whether they live in town or the country.  

My son-in-law has a degree in Forest and Land management with a specialization in Agroforestry, soils and plant propagation. 

My son is a Seattle-based permaculture designer with a focus on water management, native plants and wildlife gardens and urban food forests.  

My daughter is the result of multi-generational gardeners – experienced in home food gardens, preserving foods, cooking from garden to plate – if it can be grown, she can figure out how to use it.

They have experience in hydroponics and soil gardening and greenhouse management.
They are currently advertising on Craigslist in Skagit County:

So if this is the year that you want to start to do something like this, before you run out and start buying books, or plants – consider getting yourself a coach.  Think of it like this; if you were totally out of shape, and needed to start a fitness regimen, you would get better results and lessen the risk of injury by hiring a fitness coach.  Same thing here.  

I am fortunate that I had the benefit of their expertise to help set up my garden.  My daughter and son-in-law lived with me for two of the years he was going to Oregon State for his forestry degree.  I had both their help in setting up my gardening area.  
My son-in-law removing boxwood hedge

Hedge replacement - great fence, and everbearing Raspberries

 My son has blessed me with his expertise in permaculture and done the pruning of my fruit trees. 
 My daughter has been a constant help to me with planting, picking, canning and someone to bounce ideas off of.

 So when you look at pictures of my garden in this blog, this isn’t something that I have just done on my own.  I have had three of the best garden coaches there are to help me.

I love my garden!  It is an inspiration to my neighbors, feeds my family, friends and neighbors, and is a constant source of satisfaction, wonder and delight!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Macie's idea of living simply!

The strawberry bed

Here is a pic of what the strawberries looked like last fall:
Strawberries gone wild

This is what happens when you don't cut any of the runners -which you should!  Strawberry plants will stay very productive for about three to four years - if you cut the runners off!  These baby plants weaken the mother plant, so that is why you cut them off as soon as they form.  However, when you are ready to start a new batch for the following spring, you let them go.  if you have the room, you can just let them run and take root.  but I wanted to be a bit more intentional.  so I took the runners and let them run over the side of the bed to pots that I had filled with good soil and put on either side of the bed.  By end of September they were well rooted.  I cut them from the mommy plants, gave them another week, then potted them up into 4" pots.  some had developed such large root systems, I had to use gallon pots!

All these babies went into one of the tomato beds after the plants were all  pulled up for the fall, covered with row cover, and given a good dose of fertilzer and water about every 3-4 weeks.

The old strawberries were pulled up in November and composted.  Then the beds were filled with compost for the winter.

Baby Strawberries ready to plant

With our warm winter, I needed to plant out the new strawberries by the end of January - a bit sooner than I planned, but they were becoming root bound.  when I saw lots of new growth, and a flower bud or two, I knew it was time.

I topped off the beds with about 5 inches of new soil (planting mix from Highway Fuel in Salem) which is a combination of compost and top soil.  I did a soil test, which put the soil right about neutral PH.  since berries like it slightly more acid than that, I mixed in some of my blueberry fertilizer which helps to lower the ph.

 I only planted five plants per section - I don't know what variety these are - they are all from about 10 that a friend gave me 4 years ago.  The variety I had purchased at the nursery were not doing so well, and when she asked me if I wanted some of her humungous, everbearing strawberry plants, I jumped at the chance.  (this is where it is helpful to have lots of gardening friends).

 A thick coating of well-rotted sawdust ( about 18 months old) with some good old Sluggo around the edges...
 Up go my hoops and lots of bird block netting (to keep the cats out)...
 And then the row cover.  It is after all still winter.  About a week after getting this all done, our three weeks of sun and warm weather ended and we had about a month of cold, with a few nights dipping down below freezing.  The row cover kept everything nice and warm.  I did have to unclip it during the day when it was sunny so it wouldn't get too hot.  Plus, that darn Puppy (one of our cats) figured out how to get past the netting and under the row cover.  He is very aware of how warm it is under the row covers on a cold sunny day!

If I take the row cover off before going to work, he won't get in there.
 First strawberry blooms opened mid-March - and now in April I have lots of blooms and many little strawberries ready to grow and ripen.
The great thing about saving all the strawberry plants the runners put off is that I had a total of over 90 starts that survived the winter.  I only used 25.  the rest went to two families in Washington and three families here in Salem. 

When you grow your own berries, you not only feed yourself, family and friends, you also have plants that you can share with others.  I dig up all the starts of berries around my patch and give them away.  2014-15 I have given away over $100 of berry plants to friends and neighbors.  So remember that when you are planting this year.  All those volunteers next fall can go to a good home and help to feed others. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

If you are visiting for the first time and looking for info on raised beds, check back through the history and some of the older posts.  I have built some more, but don't have the pics ready to post yet.  working on it!  Any questions, let me know and I will try to point you in the right direction.