BCS Teaching Garden

Buttercups and Quince


Harvesting by myself in the garden this morning.  Picked 65 lbs of produce – the bulk of which was winter squash and quince.  The quince are just starting to ripen, so I didn’t pick very many, but a few were definitely ready.  Quince (Cydonia oblonga) may not be the most lovely fruit in the world – looking like a misshapen pear covered in shedding fuzz – but the aroma from this crate of fruit was nothing short of heavenly.  The scent is likened to guava and honey with overtones of vanilla and rose.

These ancient pomes are a fruit worth keeping in cultivation and in the kitchen.  In fact when people ask me what fruit tree they should pick if they only have room for one, I always say, “quince!”  Naturally dwarf, with a lovely shape, handsome bark, stunning fragrant pink flowers, quince are an excellent landscaping tree.  Most varieties are self-fertile, so you only need one.  A quince will also bear twice as much fruit as an apple tree the same size, and the fruit are pestered by far fewer insects than apples.  I love them so much, I have five varieties in my garden, although three are too young to be producing yet.


My favorite way to enjoy quince is to turn it into membrillo – a Spanish quince paste made from cooking the high-pectin fruit for hours and hours until it becomes a beautiful orangey-red.  It is then poured into a dish to cool, where it sets into a dense, slightly grainy jelly that is amazing on toast or with Manchego cheese.

Quince are very hard and most varieties cannot be eaten raw, but roasted they turn pink and sweet and fill the kitchen with a delicious fragrance.  Any apple pie or applesauce is augmented significantly by the addition of quince to the recipe.  Any roasted pork or poultry dish would also pair beautifully with roasted quince.





As I was ripping up dead winter squash vines and spent tomatoes, I ended up with the first few witner squash of the season.  Most of the vines are still going strong, and there are dozens more squash that will be picked over the next few weeks.

Most of the squash I plant are Buttercup varieties.  Buttercups are a type of Cucurbita maxima, and have the benefit of being a meal-sized squash, not a hulking behemoth the modern family has trouble making use of.

The one above is “Burgess Buttercup” and has consistently been rated the best-tasting winter squash variety.  It is slightly dry with dense bright orange flesh.  It is fantastic for roasting, and holds its shape in soups and stews.  I have steamed and mashed it and made pumpkin rolls that were everyone’s favorite at the holidays.




Honestly, I’m looking forward to the end of the garden year.  Volunteers have ended their shifts for 2015, and the next few weeks I will be harvesting by myself – more quince, oodles of winter squash, ground cherries, Inca Berries, lingonberries, and the like.  Then, we’ll be down to cleaning up the garden, planting garlic, and growing only what our family eats off of for the winter (kale, leeks, etc).  As much as I love running the garden project, winter is a nice sabbatical, and a chance to focus on indoor activities and hobbies.

Elderberry Harvest


This morning I had three brand-new hardworking volunteers helping us pick product for Birch Community Services.  We spent a good chunk of time picking hard-to-reach elderberries, which are in full production.




Fresh organically-grown elderberries go for $3-6 dollars/lb, and we picked about 25 lbs today.


We also picked tomatoes, green beans, and a big flat of plums.  Sungold cherry tomatoes are my long-standing favorite.  They produce reliable, very sweet and split-resistant fruit over a long period and in great quantities.


This is the first year we’ve gotten plums off a tree I grafted as a tiny little twig four and a half years ago.  I estimate around 25 lbs of plums and another 30 lbs left on the tree.


Here you can see what the four of us picked in a short period of time.  Glad to get the beefsteak tomatoes off the vines before the much-needed rain rolls in tomorrow.  Not sure how much more “summer” we will have for the garden, but we are most certainly enjoying it today.

Tuesday Evening


The garden always starts to look a little more wild and unkempt than normal this time of year.  Some plants are past their prime and looking scraggly.  Some have spilled over their boundaries to scramble over paths and up tomato cages.  Some (like the mile-high lettuce in the center-background) are allowed to bolt so I can save the seeds or are permitted to self-sow about the garden.


After dinner, George helped me pick some tomatoes and plums and summer squash for a delivery in the morning.  He got a thrill out of being hoisted up to help reach the first wave of ripe Stanley plums.


He thought this Pink Brandywine tomato was really cool and deserved a close-up.



As the sun was getting close to setting, Ruth brought out her favorite chicken, Cookie, to peck around in the Rain Garden before she and Casey locked up the poultry for the night.



It’s a good thing Cookie is the world’s snuggliest chicken, because Ruth absolutely adores her.  She’s a total puppy dog and wants to be picked up and held at every opportunity.



All in all, not-too-shabby for less than an hour’s picking with small children “helping”, especially considering I also picked another dehydrator-load of calendula and comfrey, and some golden raspberries for the kids’ dessert, and weeded as I went along.  Definitely, not-too-shabby.

Produce Picked


So, I haven’t been blogging much lately.  We’ve been in summer overdrive – husband job-hunting (he starts his new job Monday!), ferrying kids to summer camps, derby derby and more derby, sewing and knitting like crazy in preparation for opening my Etsy store this fall, and most of all: harvesting produce twice a week with volunteers in our garden.


Before I start back to regular posting, I wanted to share some pictures of the harvests over the past couple of weeks.  We’ve had all sorts of new volunteers helping, most of whom have almost no previous garden experience.  It’s been so much fun to work with them, and seeing men and women get excited about all the possibilites that exist in a permacultuer garden.  Have also loved seeing their kids to snack on ground cherries and golden raspberries, play with the ducks, and watch the observation window in the beehive while we pick fruits and veggies.

A glimpse of a portion of what we’ve been picking lately for Birch Community Services:











Back tomorrow with a post on my new favorite permaculture tool:  a hand-me-down solar dehydrator!





Sharing a few shots of some of the crates of produce we’ve picked in the last two weeks.  Our gardens grow organic produce for Birch Community Services, and volunteers come twice a week to learn about gardening, harvest and do a little weeding with me.  It’s still early in the year, but there is a fair amount to pick.



The herbs are loving the warm weather!  Lavender is a high-value crop, and we grow a lot of it – 6 edible varieties as well as 3 types of Spanish lavender for the bees.  This time of year, all of our 8 varieties of mint are producing heavily, too.



We have three varieties of rhubarb – 9 plants total – so we pick quite a bit of rhubarb every Monday and Friday this time of year.  In the winter, I frequently give volunteers crown divisions so they can start their own rhubarb patches.



Hope you’re enjoying the weekend.  This afternoon is dedicated to mulch-spreading, which is just as necessary a job as picking produce, if less glamorous. I know I’m looking forward to volunteers coming to help harvest first thing tomorrow morning.

Early June Garden


After a few months on break (WordPress troubles, another surgery), I’m back to blogging.

A few shots around the garden yesterday (the one above shows part of our new rain garden).   Early June is so lovely.  Everything still tidy and unfurling.

IMG_1401       IMG_1402



It’s shaping up to be a very good year for berries.  The kids have been picking a basket of berries to accompany every meal, and snacking on them in between.


All of the apples have set very heavily this year.  I did a lot of hand-thinning after the natural fruit drop at the beginning of the month.




The grapes, too, have set heavily, and the vines provide lush shade.


Back with more posts over the next two weeks – a little catch-up on what we’ve been doing for the past month, some new recipes and a sewing tutorial!




Fall Chop n Drop


Saying goodbye to the abundant tomato crop:  This year has been the best and longest tomato growing season since we started gardening in this location five years ago.  George and I spent yesterday ripping up, chopping up tomato plants, and stripping the last of the fruits from the vines.


We had quite a lot of ripe/ripening tomatoes, especially considering a volunteer had picked a much larger quantity earlier in the week.  There were also quite a lot of tomatillos (bottom right).   Most years, the tomatoes are long gone this far into October, so we are lucky to be picking any.

We do take in the green tomatoes (bottom left) since they make very good chutney, fried tomatoes, and lacto-fermented dill pickles.


As we pull up the tomato plants, I chop them into small (hand-sized) pieces and throw them right back on the beds.  As other spent plants die, they are also cut off at the ground and chopped onto the beds.  Soon, I will sprinkle coffee grounds, coffee chaff, composted poultry manure, and comfrey tea on the beds. Over our mild Oregon winter, the poultry will work through the beds, scratching the vegetable matter and helping it break down before spring.  Worms will come up to the surface and help turn the plant matter into compost.  There is no need to expend the effort to move it all to a compost bin, let it decompose, and then shovel it all back.  Letting it compost in place is a huge labor saver.

Chop and Drop is an energy-saving, soil-building concept in permaculture where biomass is accumulated through the chopping and dropping of excess vegetation.  Just as leaves and branches fall in nature, building up the soil, in the permaculture garden, the gardener accelerates that process by intentionally cutting back vegetation, and laying it on top of the beds.

In the photo above, you can see the ducks and Cookie the Buff Orpington looking for slugs and other goodies in a mass of vegetation I have just chopped and dropped around a white currant (far left) and a young Bavay’s Green Gage plum (small trunk at right).  As these materials break down, they slowly release nutrients into the soil, encourage the growth of beneficial fungi, and build soil fertility.   Keeping a cover of mulch also suppresses weeds, conserves water, and protects perennials from harsh winter weather.


In a immature system such as ours, we still bring in wood chips several times year to mulch beds and import biomass.  Hopefully, in a few years, we will be producing enough biomass here at the farmette to supple the needs of all the garden beds and the orchard.  (More on that later in the week!)

At the end of the afternoon, my foot is quite swollen, and I’m very glad the ham n split pea stew was made early in the day, so I can put my foot up and rest before supper.  There is a lot to be done in order to put the garden to bed for the winter, but I think we got a solid start to the work before the driving rain returns tomorrow.


October bounty

IMG_0122[1]A few images from the past week:



Picking highbush cranberries (Viburnum trilobum) back by the chicken coop.  There are many nurseries that stock this species (or group of species), but unless you acquire a variety specifically selected for eating, the fruit will be highly unpalatable.  These are from a specialty nursery and the fruit taste very much like a true cranberry (Vaccinium spp).

The birds get about half the fruit, but those we manage to pick substitute nicely for cranberries in any dish.  They also make a lovely red jelly, and dehydrate well.  If you have room, they are worth growing, especially as the plant is less fussy than true cranberries, and the fruit is ready weeks and weeks before the lingonberries.


Bacon-fat rubbed all over a chicken before roasting yields a spectacularly crispy skin.  This chicken with roasted carrots and onions fed us for three meals: One roast chicken dinner, leftovers for pot pie, and a batch of bone broth.  The garlic, carrots, rosemary, sage came from the garden.



Picking quince, which will be made into membrillo in a few days.  In the meantime, they fill the kitchen with a delightful floral – almost tropical – aroma.



Checking on the few monster “Sweet Meat” winter squashes.  Because October continues to be mild, the vines are still green and growing, so the squash are still in the garden.   Looking forward to making soup, gnocchi, and roast squash from these giant beauties.



Another blessing of the mild weather:  we continue to pick a handful or two of golden raspberries and Inca berries every day for snacks.

IMG_0086[1]Cleaning a gorgeous bag of wild rosehips picked for me by a friend.  They were made into elderberry-rosehip syrup – the recipe for which I will share later in the week.





First Day of Autumn


It has been three months since I last posted an update.  Three months ago tomorrow, I broke my leg quite badly at derby practice, and have spent the summer recovering from two subsequent reconstructive surgeries.

Hard Wear

They tell me it takes a full year to be back (as close) to normal (as the ankle can get).  In the last two weeks, I’ve finally been able to get out in the garden for a few hours each day.  While I have some complications, and still have a brace and need to use one crutch, being back in the garden has done wonders for my recovery.  It is such a gift to be able to get around outdoors – however slowly – and tend to the garden – however wild it has become.  It is so so good to get back to any measure of garden work.

A quick glimpse at our morning in the garden:  (Bea, our resident shutterbug, took all of these pictures, as I was ecstatically hobbling around the yard with a crutch in one hand and pruners in the other.):

IMG_9577[1]The last of the plums were picked today.  They are “Stanley” prune plums in the front yard.  They are ready a full month after the other plums in the yard, so we have had fresh plums throughout the summer.


IMG_9736[1]The Swiss Chard is a bit out of control in the front beds.  I allow the brightest and most vigorous plants to bolt and then let them self-sow every year.  The result has been bigger plants each year and deep bright pink or red stems in most of the plants.


The Cox’s Orange Pippin apples are beginning to blush a bit of red.  I am anxious for them to ripen!


I can never resist snacking on Cape Gooseberries (Physalis peruviana, which are also known as Inca berries).  They always ripen at the very end of summer after most fruits have peaked.  The late ripening, plus their sweet-tart exotic flavor makes them worth growing, no matter how small the crop.


September also yields a flush of tomatillos.  Much like green beans, the fruit loves to hide:  you can pick a plant through, come back five minutes later and pick another full basket worth.


When placed together, it is easy to see that the tomatillo (“De Milpa” variety), Cape Gooseberry, and ground cherry all belong to the genus Physalis.  Their papery husks keep the fruit clean, even when it falls from the plant at peak ripeness.

IMG_9747[1]While I picked tomatillos, the older children made and elaborate game for George that involved gathering beans from the “Sadie’s Horse Bean” and “Indian Runner” pole beans.  it kept them occupied for a very, very long time.

IMG_9782[1]A portion of this morning’s harvest for Birch Community Services, which included ground cherries, “Violette de Bordeaux” figs, lavender, French Tarragon, “Delicata” squash, tomatoes, summer squash, plums, “Lacinato” (aka “Dinosaur”) kale, Lemon cucumbers, chard, sage, rosemary, and tomatillos.

More soon as the garden winds down for the year, and life slowly returns to a familiar rhythm for our family.

Blessings on your week.




Early Harvests



Some of the organic produce we have harvested in the past week and a half or so (thank you, volunteers for all your help!).  Slowly, slowly, the gardens are producing more and more food as soil fertility improves, perennial food plants begin producing, and the entire permaculture system matures.




Early Summer Evening




Walking the gardens in the evening is one of my favorite rituals.  It gives me a chance to take assessment of the various beds, dead-head flowers, pull weeds, prune as necessary.  The front yard perennial bed is beginning to fill in.  Late in the winter, several plants were damaged/destroyed when heavy tree rounds were accidentally dumped in my yard.  Slowly, new perennials are filling in the gaps.  Columbine, Sea Kale (Crambe maritima), Bee Balm, and several other new plants are beginning to establish, despite the slug onslaught.

The young plum trees (a Methley and an Early Laxton), have set a few fruit, despite my pruning heavily to shape them.  white clover fixes nitrogen below, nestled beneath honeyberries, rhubarb, comfrey, yarrow and other medicinal or edible perennials.  The day lilies are beginning to fill in and bloom, obscuring the fading foliage of daffodils and tulips.


Behind the Early Laxton plum, a rhubarb’s leaves capture and funnel water to the thirsty tree roots.  An artichoke’s silvery, deeply-cut foliage is a nice contrast to the deep rounded rhubarb leaves and profusion of lacy Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella).




In the backyard, bush beans and Dwarf Curly Scotch kale are growing rapidly.  The spears of garlic foliage are just beginning to turn brown, but the garlic won’t be ready to dig for another 2-4 weeks.



Ruth, in the side orchard, amidst tiny new Goumi berry (Eleagnus multiflora), Juneberries (Amelanchier alnifolia), Seckel pear, Breda Giant medlar.  In front of her, one of a number of lupines, which fix nitrogen.  Behind her, to the right, comfrey act as dynamic accumulators, and make fabulous fertilizer.



One of two Angelica plants in the shade garden.  The tiny seedlings are beginning to take off.  They should reach 6 feet by the end of summer.  When they get larger, I would like to make a batch of traditional Angelica candy.



Velvety thimbleberries, an Oregon native, are beginning to turn color.  While somewhat flavorless and fragile on their own, they will be added to other garden fruits when making jam.

The children enjoy using the large, soft leaves in their make-believe play – they make a fine palette for berry and charcoal paints, or a few laid overlapping can be twisted into a bundle for various treasures (pretty stones, immature hazelnuts, currant berries).

Back tomorrow with some photos of the produce we have been picking the last two weeks.

Early June in the Permaculture Garden



The first of the goumi berries (Eleagnus multiflora) are ripe.  I picked a handful, and my eldest promptly ate them all.


We have four goumi bushes (2 of Sweet Scarlet, and 2 of Red Gem), but only two are old enough to produce any berries.  The young plants will produce a few pints of berries -which as you can see in the above photo, ripen in succession – but in the future, we should get more than enough for batches of jam and fruit leather and fresh eating.  As a bonus, the shrubs are nitrogen fixers, so I have situated them near fruit trees in the orchard, and just uphill from one of the raspberry patches.


Another look at our little persimmon guild.  The Early Fuyu persimmon has lighter colored, glossy leaves (upper right).  Clockwise from the persimmon: chocolate mint, Japanese iris, Russian comfrey, horseradish, mojito mint, black currants.  Unseen are two young lilacs, burdock, a highbush cranberry, and the goumi berry bush shown earlier in the post.



Adjacent to this guild is a recently added a Smokey Juneberry (Amelanchier alnifolia).  Juneberries are known by many names, including “saskatoons”, “serviceberries”, and my personal favorite, “chuckley pear”.  I ordered three plants of two different varieties from Burnt Ridge Nursery, which arrived as little dormant sticks, but rapidly leafed out and are doing quite well.  It will ultimately grow 6 or more feet tall, and after a flush of fragrant white flowers in late spring, produce abundant harvests of pinkish-purple fruit, rich in vitamin C.



The black currants all around the yard have been spared the plague of gooseberry fruit flies that have ruined my other currants.



A final shot of the burdock (with my foot thrown in for scale).  It is such a handsome plant, and growing rapidly.  I have had to remove flower heads multiple times this week, and look forward to trying the root in stir fry later in the summer.

IMG_9417[1]Hal, our six yr-old, thrilled to have found the first ripe red raspberry of the summer.  Gardening with children is such a great experience.  They know the garden and its plants as well as I do, and I hope they will have fond memories of running barefoot in the raspberry patch, snacking as they go.


Hidden Corner and Weekly Harvest


Our chicken coop is a giant monstrosity we acquired four years ago for next to nothing on Craigslist.  It got a window and bright paint and sits very happily in the back of the yard.

Because it is so tall, I knew it needed a vertical climber trained up the side.  I chose Concord grapes, which my grandpa always grew, and remind me of childhood visits to his garden in Indiana.  Concords have a distinct flavor, which grape enthusiasts call “foxy.”  My kids aren’t especially fond of the flavor, but I love them. (There are plenty of other grape varieties in the front yard which they enjoy.)



I was a bit lazy with my grape pruning last fall, and I had to thin the baby grapes this week.  Looks like we are in for a large crop, nonetheless.


Behind the chicken coop, tucked back in a corner bordering our two neighbors, is the most precious plant in my garden.  There is a volunteer burdock in the foreground (it has an edible and much-prized root, but I diligently remove flowers before they set seed, as it can become a weed quite easily.)  Russian Bocking Comfrey, black currants, a Goumi berry bush, horseradish, mint, Japanese iris all surround a small tree with glossy leaves:


This diminutive tree is an Early Fuyu persimmon.  It is the most expensive plant in my garden.  I planted the whip four years ago, and it has twice been broken by small children visiting my yard.  It is incredibly slow growing, adding less than eight inches per year.  Some day it will be a shapely 15 ft specimen loaded with delicious fruit every autumn, but for now, I baby it along, and hope it comes into production before my kids are off to college.


To round out this little update, here are some of the crates of herbs and rhubarb and such I picked for BCS this week.  Bea cut and tied all of the lavender, but we were sure to leave lots for the bees, and some for our family to use, as well.



As spring begins to roll into summer, I am trying to let the early hiccups in the garden not get me down, because so much of growing food is out of our control (moles gnawed on some of my dahlias over the winter, killing them.  Slugs have killed a half dozen summer squash seedlings when I wasn’t diligent in slug-picking.  And worst of all, gooseberry maggots in all my red, white and pink currants – after four years of no problems, this year is a total loss, and next year will require floating row covers).

Watching the kids dish huge spoonfuls of homemade rhubarb compote over ice cream, nursing an injured duck back to health, seeing the first of the tomatoes set already, picking food to share with the families at BCS…these things augment the joy inherent in tending a garden.   I think it is going to be a very good growing season.


Early September in the Garden/ Transitions

Purple "de Milpa" tomatillos.  As tasty as they are beautiful.
Purple “de Milpa” tomatillos. As tasty as they are beautiful.

Well, the photo editor/uploader issues with WordPress haven’t been fixed yet, but I’m going to try and get a few images to upload for this post.  I wish the uploader would cooperate, and I could share photos of all the garden is producing – Sunchokes 10 feet fall, baskets (and bellies) full of “Fall Gold” raspberries, ducks laying pale green eggs every day, broody chickens, yarrow and salvia and dahlias splashing every corner with color…

I love the transition of early September, when we are just beginning to be weary of summer, but not quite ready for the dreariness that Oregon offers the rest of the year.  The plants and bees are frantic to do their work before fall sets in, and the cooler weather and episodes of rain have re-greened every inch of the garden.  The front and backyards are bursting with tomatoes, tomatillos, summer squash, chard, kale, elderberries and ripening quince, winter squash, and apples.


Runner beans are beginning to dry.  Looking forward to a few pots of soup from 1 teepee's worth of vines.
Runner beans are beginning to dry. Looking forward to a few pots of soup from 1 teepee’s worth of vines.

The difficulties of malfunctioning WordPress haven’t been a bad thing, really.  Taking a break from blogging and my FB page has been a good thing for me – less stress, more free time with the kids.   I have learned to roller skate (never skated as a kid!) and am training with Ruth and Bea for roller derby (they play, I fall a bunch and try to learn a fraction of the skills they have acquired).  I ended up falling at skating class and jacking up my left arm, so typing is slow and one-handed at the moment (another reason to take a break from blogging).  (I am very much looking forward to getting back on skates when the splint comes off in a week or two – I may not be a good skater (yet!) but it is something I can do with my girls, good exercise, and a fantastic way to release a lot of accumulated anxieties, worries, frustrations.)

Bea picking dahlias and lavender, both of which are still producing abundantly
Bea picking dahlias and lavender, both of which are still producing abundantly

Time late at night that I would normally spend blogging or reading other blogs, I am now spending exercising and strength building for derby and working on writing projects.   I really miss reading what other blogging families are doing, and seeing other mom’s beautiful handwork and culinary creations – through them I find so many good knitting patterns, book recommendations, recipes, home-education inspiration.   However,  it is also stressful for me and a lot of feelings of inferiority well up with each blog post I view.  The more I read about lives that run so much more smoothly than my own, and view those carefully chosen images, the more I stress about dust bunnies in every corner of my house, kids with tangled hair, house projects unfinished, and piles of unfolded laundry.  When I take a break from the blogosphere, I feel more centered and enjoy my family more, because I am stressing less.  And with the start of our homeschooling year and having a kindergartener, a 3rd grader and a 5th grader, plus a very active 2 yr-old, I need less stress.

Orange beefsteaks with red cherries in the background.  Near the house, the beds are overrun with red and yellow "Brandywines" and "Mortgage Lifters".  We've been eating "Sun Gold" cherry tomatoes with nearly every meal - so delicious on omelettes or in salads.
Orange beefsteaks with red cherries in the background. Near the house, the beds are overrun with red and yellow “Brandywines” and “Mortgage Lifters”. We’ve been eating “Sun Gold” cherry tomatoes with nearly every meal – so delicious on omelettes or in salads.

So, after sharing this morning’s photos from a few hours in the garden with the kids, I’m not sure when I’ll be back.  I probably won’t be posting regularly for a while, but I will be back now and then to share some of the good things happening in our lives.

Bea picked a handful of lavender for "secret potions"
Bea picked a handful of lavender for “secret potions”
Sweat Meat winter squash vining through the kale
Sweat Meat winter squash vining through the kale
Brandywines with oca (Oxalis tuberosa) and cucumber underneath.  We're getting more big ripe beefsteaks this year than in the last three years combined.
Brandywines with oca (Oxalis tuberosa) and cucumber underneath. We’re getting more big ripe beefsteaks this year than in the last three years combined.
Rows and rows of beautiful beneficial (though inedible) mushrooms spring up in all the paths after it rains.  They breakdown the woodchips and release nutrients into the soil.
Rows and rows of beautiful beneficial (though inedible) mushrooms spring up in all the paths after it rains. They breakdown the woodchips and release nutrients into the soil.

Blessings on you this month as the seasons shift.  I hope September is as energizing for you as it has been thus far for our family.

Garden Late June Part Two

Middle of the backard, chicken coop in background
Middle of the backard, chicken coop in background

Part two of Late June in the garden:  the backyard.  Rhubarb, beans, amaranth, garlic, pole beans, tomatoes, tomatillos, volunteer chard and sunflowers.

Backyard raspberry patch
Backyard raspberry patch
The side yard, with shed in the background
The side yard, with shed in the background

Raspberries in the back and side yards are still cranking out the berries.  The side yard patch (on the left) has encroached upon the path and blueberries, columbine and dahlias (to the right).  Ah well, I do love that wild, overgrown look to the garden.

thimbleberries, lingonberries and elderberries in the shade garden
thimbleberries, lingonberries and elderberries in the shade garden
immature elderberries
immature elderberries

It’s going to be a great year for elderberries.  Both the native and Asian elderberry in our shade garden are loaded full of young fruit.

A young Cox's Orange Pippin apple
A young Cox’s Orange Pippin apple

We will finally be getting apples this year!  Six of our dozen+ young apple trees have fruit!  And the quinces and one fig have set some fruit as well.  So good to see our investment in perennial fruit crops begin to yield a harvest!

Potatoes, poppies, hollyhocks, kale, cucumber, chard, pumpkins, tomatoes, white clover, currants, gladioulus, chard, filbert: a healthy and vigorous polculture, full of bees every morning
Potatoes, poppies, hollyhocks, kale, cucumber, chard, sage, chives, pumpkins, tomatoes, white clover, currants, gladioulus, chard, filbert: a healthy and vigorous polculture, full of bees every morning
Corn poppies: a self-sowing annual poppy.  Reliable, beautiful, and low-maintenance.
Corn poppies: a self-sowing annual poppy. Reliable, beautiful, and low-maintenance.

I hope you enjoyed the tour of our permaculture farmette.  I will try to post a few more times this week as we hide from the summer heat.  Stay cool!

Late June in the Garden Part One

Ranunculus, ie Persian Buttercup.  One of my favorite summer cut flowers.
Ranunculus, ie Persian Buttercup. One of my favorite summer cut flowers.

Some images from our front-yard permaculture garden, as we slowly transition more and more beds to perennial crops (as time and budget permit).

Front yard late June.  Lupines are self-sowing around.   The first year of since ripping out the dahlias which used to fill the entire bed.  This guild includes honeyberries, plum trees, a baby quince (staked, on the right), rhubarb, currants, lilacs, oodles of beneficial perennial flowering plants, bronze fennel, comfrey.
Front yard late June. Lupines are self-sowing around. The first year of since ripping out the dahlias which used to fill the entire bed. This guild includes honeyberries, plum trees, a baby quince (staked, on the right), rhubarb, currants, lilacs, oodles of beneficial perennial flowering plants, bronze fennel, comfrey.  Annual veggies and blueberries behind.

Oh yeah, it’s a jungle.  I still think it’s more beautiful than any monoculture lawn, don’t you?

Another view of the front beds and grape arbor.  Large plant on the right is bronze fennel.  New honeyberries and "Early Laxton" plum (and many perennial flowers, lovage rhubarb, etc as well)
Another view of the front beds and grape arbor. Large plant on the right is bronze fennel. Left of the arbor: New honeyberries and “Early Laxton” plum (and many perennial flowers, lovage rhubarb, etc as well).  Artichoke behind young plum produced about 8 heads, but leaves are also a good source of mulch.
Red Yarrow ( Achillea millefolium).  Great permaculture plant - attracts man beneficial insects and can be used to staunch bleeding from cuts (works really well, actually.)
Yarrow ( Achillea millefolium). This is a red variety, but I also have white, coral, pink and yellow scattered around the yard.  Great permaculture plant – attracts many beneficial insects and can be used to staunch bleeding from cuts (works really well, actually.)

Planting beneficial, useful, and edible plants doesn’t mean sacrificing beauty and blooms in your landscape.

Young plum guild: Third year of "Methley" dwarf plum I grafted a few years back, "Pagoda" honeyberry, "Hood" strawberries, lavender, chives, bee balm, native iris, oriental poppies, variegated land cress, columbine, oregano.  Nasturtiums from the neighboring garlic bed have invaded a bit (lower right).
Young plum guild: Third year of “Methley” dwarf plum I grafted a few years back, “Pagoda” honeyberry, “Hood” strawberries, lavender, chives, bee balm, native iris, oriental poppies, variegated land cress, columbine, oregano. Nasturtiums from the neighboring garlic bed have invaded a bit (lower right).
Another view of the young plum guild (annuals in beds behind).
Another view of the young plum guild (annuals in beds behind).

All of this was lawn four years ago (plus the neighbor’s hedge).  Of course, it’s all in transition, but as the trees and shrubs mature, it will continue to move from scraggly to ever-more beautiful and diverse and productive.  (But always look a bit wild, I hope.)


The cool and constant rain should give-way to temps near 90F by the weekend.  I know the tomatoes and peppers and squash will be grateful for some true summer weather.

Please come back over the weekend for a walk through our backyard and sideyard gardens.

Saturday in the Garden


Most of the currants have been a dud this year, the strawberries are nearly gone, and the blueberries not-quite-ripe yet.  But the raspberries!! Oh, what a fantastic year for raspberries.  Many, many pints have been delivered to BCS, and many more wolfed down by neighborhood children flocking to our backyard.

IMG_8513Breakfast, snack, dessert – we cannot get enough of them.  The kids are especially loving them blended with plain kefir, a little honey, and ice cubes for a smoothie snack.  IMG_8514

Now that garden chores are finished for the day, we’re off to a Bonsai festival.  And then the girls have Roller Derby practice this evening, while the boys hang out with their grandma.   It’s going to be a busy day!  Hope you have a perfect summer weekend.

Peonies and Raspberries

Dessert last night - chocolate cake with chocolate mousse and raspberries.
Dessert last night – chocolate cake with chocolate mousse and raspberries

Well, I’ve been knocked down somewhat with a summer cold, and didn’t make the Yarn Along this week.  I finished a pair of socks for a friend, and hope to post photos next week.

Calendula in bloom
Calendula in bloom

We have company visiting, and volunteers in the garden, and swim lessons and so much summer goodness and fun.  We’ve been baking and playing with the neighbor kids and cutting posies in the yard.  And stuffing ourselves full of raspberries on a daily basis.

I had volunteers here this morning, and together harvested loads of organic produce for BCS – baskets full of Spanish shallots, raspberries, 4 kinds of mint, herb packs, French Tarragon, rhubarb, Russian Red kale, Rainbow chard, snow peas, currants, and lavender.   I was too busy picking to take photos, but will try to make a point of documenting next week’s harvests.

Hope you have a good weekend.  We are looking forward to:

-hanging out with Grandma and Grandpa B, who are visiting from Florida

-making Mujaddara, falafels, and kale salad for dinner tomorrow

– biking at Sunday Parkways with my sister


This and that



After a weekend full of hiking and trips to the playground and ice cream cones, we are launching headfirst into a busy week.  The three older kids start swim lessons, my folks come to visit, and summer is in full swing.

For now, a few pictures from our weekend:


IMG_8493Ruth sorting a 25 cent bag of bias tape she picked up at the thrift store.


IMG_8455Making kraut.

IMG_8428I’ll be back later in the week for the Yarn Along.



Waiting for spring


It has been a while since I’ve posted.  Life is tremendously hectic (I feel like I say that too frequently).  Friends having babies, and they need meals.  Kids sick with colds that become pneumonia and bronchitis.  Hours of garden work every single day.  House chores I cannot keep on top of.

The grey rainy days and too many hours inside being ill are starting to wear thin on everyone.  We are looking forward to spring.


During George’s nap today, Harold and I went outside to spread mulch (an unending chore when you are trying to build biomass and increase fertility in a garden with poor clay soils).  Much to my surprise, 5 of the 8 rhubarbs are beginning to wake from their winter slumber.  Oh, it made my heartbeat quicken for a moment – a sign of spring!


In the front yard, underneath the honeyberry bushes and prune plum trees, the first of the daffodils and crocus are beginning to emerge.   Here in Oregon there are many, many more weeks of grey and rain and chilly weather, but the end is in sight.  Winter is beginning to ebb at last.   We look forward to the rebirth of spring.

Saturday Garden Planning


I spent a considerable amount of time in the garden this week thanks to temperatures in the high 30’s ad low 40’s.  We had planned on finishing the chicken run re-do this morning.  However, a bank of freezing fog moved in, and the children quickly got chilled, despite being well-bundled.


So, we headed inside, to make raspberry-swirl brownies.  While the brownies baked, little George and I sat in the dining nook – he played with toys and rosemary sprigs, and I tried to finish up some garden planning for the coming year.    The big kids sat warming cold fingers and toes by the heater (oh, how I wish we had a woodstove!).

I am working on a new map of the garden.  We did a basemap when we first started the gardens, and every year it gets updated.   I have added pears and plums and an apple tree, as well as many new currants.  Several beds got moved around and reshaped in the fall.  The new map will show all of the improvements for the coming year.

IMG_8121  Our Baker Creek order arrived earlier this week.  I save many of my own seeds, and also carefully store purchased seeds from previous years.  We start many more seedlings than we have room for, so that we can share with volunteers and BCS participants, and I do need to reorder some seeds every single year.  (It’s like Christmas in January!)

I am anxious to get the garden going.   Looking forward to having the front sunroom full of little green, growing seedlings very, very soon…




Out in the Chill

Some images from the garden this week:

My little garden helper.  Love spending time out in the garden early in the morning,  just me and George (and the poultry, of course).

We found some gorgeous mushrooms (Turkey Tail?) growing on old plum logs bordering the rhubarb patch.  Aren’t they beautiful?

And this feathery mycelium on the underside of a board that had been laying on the ground since the children abandoned their fort with the onset of chilly wet weather.  Every time I see gorgeous fungus in the yard, I resolve to learn more about this fascinating Kingdom that brings healing to our landscape and nourishment to our perennial fruit crops.

Dashing in to gather the last handfuls of ripe lingonberries after jubilant quacking from the ducks alerted me to their presence in the lingonberry patch.  They did not damage the plants, but stripped 90% of the fruit off.   Sigh.

We are working through the garlic in storage so quickly!  I ran down to the basket in the basement to gather a few more cloves for the beef stew I was making for dinner.  Hoping hoping hoping we won’t run out of garlic before the newly planted crop matures in late June.

Filled with gratitude for a week that included so much time out in the garden, working hard and enjoying the crisp cold fresh air.

And grateful for the privilege of having little George in our family – for being able to watch his transition from babyhood to boyhood.  He is adding new words and signs to his vocabulary almost daily.  He is blossoming into his own little person, with a personality so different from his siblings.  Loved watching him playing in a flake of straw, squealing with utter delight and scattering the straw with total abandon.  It is the ordinary little moments like this,  in the midst of ordinary days,  that I will hold dear in my memory.  Such a blessing.

Late December in the garden

Our Christmas was the first spent at home in Oregon, instead of visiting Grandma and Grandpa B.  We had a peaceful and happy holiday.

Since, in the past, the children and I have been in Florida for 4 to 6 weeks in the winter, we have missed out on enjoying the garden in this season.  But not this year!  Every morning, we have bundled up and spent two or three hours outside.

Our temperatures have been mild (high 30’s to mid 40’s) and we have taken full advantage.   The poultry love it that we are out improving the garden, too.  Every shovel of earth turned over yields a bounty of worms for hungry beaks.  When we are outside, the birds are ever underfoot!

Back in October, I planted several rows of our heirloom garlic in the front yard.  In order to improve our bulbing garlic over the years, we save the biggest and best cloves from our late-June harvest for planting.  This year, we also set aside many small inner cloves to be planted in clumps for a spring harvest of green garlic.

With November temperatures still well above freezing, I was able to do a late planting of shallots (on the left), as well.  However, the addition of many perennial veggies and fruit trees has reduced space for annuals in the front yard, so there were bulbs leftover.

This week, the ground remains unfrozen, despite morning frosts.  I was determined to get the rest of the garlic and shallots planted in the backyard.  After 2 hours of reshaping a bed that formerly grew beans, turning in composted manure, adding a dormant rhubarb to the end of the bed, and mulching the paths around the bed, we were reading for planting.

Once the garlic is planted, of course it has to be mulched to keep through the winter.  Well, chickens LOVE fresh straw mulch – whether they are actively looking for seeds and snacks, or just reveling in scratching, whooshing, crunching.  A fence is requisite.  Bolt, our Speckled Sussex, only needs a few moments to find a weak spot in a fence.  (She was removed and the fence mended before she damaged the newly planted garlic.)

It was good to have rest time over the holidays, but I am glad to be back to posting.  And with the approaching New Year, I am looking forward to green things growing again.

Time to go thumb through seed catalogs and finalize my orders for the 2013 garden year!

Care of the Raspberry Patch

The raspberries have yet to drop all their leaves, but with plenty of rain in the forecast, now was the time to get the patches cleaned up for winter.  What better way to do it than in the last blush of sunshine before the return of fall rains?

We have two raspberry patches.  The one above is for the children of volunteers to snack on.  It resides in the side yard, next to a strawberry bed that serves the same purpose.

The other, larger patch is in front of the chicken coop in the backyard (half shown here).  It is currently one and a half rows of summer-bearing raspberries, and a half-row of “Fall Gold” raspberries, which produce August through October (still picking those!).  I am beginning to add a third row of marionberries and other brambleberries, which will all be trellised.  I also have a dwarf Mulberry on order to plant in this part of the yard come spring.

The first step to cleaning up the raspberry bed (and keeping it healthy and productive) is to weed all around the base.  Raspberries to NOT like weed competition.  I pulled up all the weeds, cut back the mint and sweet alyssum growing around the edges.

Next comes thinning – Raspberry plants are perennial, but the canes themselves are biennial.  Berries are produced on second year canes.  At the end of the first year, the canes produced that year (called “primocanes”) are topped and tied up, because they will produce next year’s fruit.   All spindly, diseased, wonky primocanes are removed at the base with sharp hand pruners (George is “helping” me here with a very old, very dull pair). The large, healthy

 Floricanes, which are the old, spent 2nd-year canes that fruited this year are also removed at the ground.  They are easy to spot, because they are clearly dead at the base, and look “woodier” and may have some unpicked shriveled fruit remaining.

Canes sent up by the plant  far outside your patch (sometimes three feet!) also need to removed, or after a few years you will find your berry patch has walked all over your yard.

Those healthy primocanes remaining are bundled and tied to the wires or strings ringing the patch.  (Some folks who grow their berries against a fence skip this step).  There are different ways to train the canes, and I use the topped-method, instead of the bent method.

Someone asked me this year why I use heavy-duty cotton yarn instead of wires.  The answer is simple – we had a large cone of cotton twine donated to the garden, and there wasn’t money in the budget for wire trellises.

Eventually, I would love to put in a more permanent wire system, but for now, cotton twine works just fine, and I can chuck it in the compost when it deteriorates.  You don’t need to wait until you can afford a spendy wire trellis system before starting your raspberry patch.  Work with what you have. 

A quick note about fall-bearing varieties like the delicate and superior “Fall Gold”, and ever-bearing varieties pruned to produce a large fall crop: These plants are trained differently.  They have more delicate canes, and are often shorter.  They are not topped in the fall.  Instead, I cut out the small, weak canes, and continue to harvest beautiful sweet berries through October from the tops of the larger canes.  Then, in March of the following spring, I will cut the plant to the ground, and it will produce berries on primocanes that August.

While I keep nearly all biomass in our system, and put few things in the yardwaste bins, raspberry canes are not “chopped and dropped” back onto the beds.  They are used as mulch elsewhere in the garden.  I place them around the base of other (unrelated) perennial plants, and mulch the raspberries with other chopped prunings.  This keeps disease cycles from setting up in the berry patch.

The berries here got a layer of chopped comfrey leaves, currant prunings, grass clippings, and apple leaves. Cleaning up the garden in fall needn’t mean wasting valuable biomass in the yardwaste bins, but it is important to utilize it in a way that does not promote pathogens in the garden.

I hope my walk-through of our fall routine for raspberry patch care is helpful.  If you would like free canes in the spring, please feel free to e-mail me come Feb or March.  I would love to help you start growing your own delicious, organic berries.