Saturday, May 31, 2014

Meanwhile, in Suburbia ...

Our gardens continue to grow at Sage Garden.  Here is the "lasagna garden" I posted about earlier in "First Garden"

So far, we have corn, pole beans, acorn and butternut squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, sunflowers, and cucumbers growing in this plot.  The sunflower you see above was grown from seeds shared by a neighbor.

We're gradually adding more to the herb garden around the olive tree.
By stacking multiple uses in the same footprint (olives + herbs), we not only use space more efficiently, but we also get double benefit from feeding and watering this area.  We've chosen herbs which serve as good "companions" for olive trees, and they're enjoying the shade the olive tree provides.  So far, we have lavender, green onions, rosemary, thyme, and several varieties of basil and sage.  After we get a simple trellis built, we're planning to add grapes.

Today, we turned some junk mail into paper mache, which we will use as mulch.  The easy way to mix it is with a mortar mixing drill bit.  But what fun is that, when you can squish it with your hands?

One thing we have to deal with in some areas where we want to plant is a plastic landscaping barrier, such as this area where a pomegranate tree will go.
But as long as it's there, it serves as a perfect substrate for drying our paper mache.  You can also see our new window shades in this picture.  Some of the gravel we remove from areas like this goes into our French drain which collects rainwater from over the clothesline and directs it to the fig trees.  When we've finished filling that with gravel, our neighbor across the street (not the one with the sunflowers - different neighbor, who by the way is quite the urban farmer) says he could use gravel too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Trees take time to mature - there's no getting around it.  Part of our strategy for the first half of 2014 ("Stop the bleeding; start the growing") is to start those things growing that simply take a long time, like trees.  For instance, here are some fruit trees ready to be planted.

Some people say they can see a fairy in this picture.  I say if you want to see a fairy, you'll see one, whether it's there or not.

The fig tree above (foreground) is sitting about where it will be planted.  This area, which is just south of the house, used to be home to an oleander, which was suboptimal for several reasons, including 1) it blocked the sun during the winter, 2) it doesn't produce any food, 3) it requires trimming, but because it's toxic, the trimmings can't be used for mulch or composting or burning.  The fig will grow fast, with big leaves to provide shade in the summer, but since it's deciduous, it'll let the warming sun shine through in (late) winter.  It will get all-day sun here, and its water needs will be easily met by available greywater.  It will yield a delicious, high-demand crop, and the trimmings can be used for burning, mulching and composting.

The pomegranates will go to somewhat drier locations.

We're also taking care of the trees that are here already.  This olive tree was surrounded by dead, sunbaked clay soil.  We'd like to maximize our olive harvest this year, so we amended the soil, irrigated, mulched, and planted some companions.

Is it just me, or does that look like a fairy standing next to the tree?  Must be the evening light playing tricks.  So far we have sage, basil, oregano, and lavender, with thyme, rosemary and green onions waiting to be planted.  We're also considering grapes for this area.

Finally, here's another fig tree, which will get plenty of sun and greywater.

Umm ... do you see ... never mind.

Monday, February 24, 2014

First Garden

We've started our first garden plot at Sage Garden.  For this plot, we're using some time-tested gardening patterns - namely, sheet mulching and the 3 sisters.

We started with a 9' x 13' area that gets morning sun and afternoon shade.  Its willingness to grow is attested by the weeds that were thriving in it.  It's protected by fence on 3 sides from wind and critters (making it easy, if needed, to completely surround it by erecting another small fence), and it's not far from an existing hose bib.

Here's a before picture.  (Thanks for the pic, Liz.)
You can see the cardboard boxes that we collected as everyone moved into Sage Garden.  These are an important ingredient of sheet mulching.  First, we set the cardboard aside.  One patch of ground was bare and particularly hard, so I loosened it with a garden fork.  I didn't turn it at all - just cracked the ground so water could seep down into it.  Then we hacked the existing weeds; we simply cut them low and left the cuttings in place.  To this we added manure, spread the whole mess evenly, and then watered generously (using tap water with a chlorine filter).  Next came the cardboard.
We used those boxes as our weed barrier.  We considered the surrounding area and the potential for weeds to encroach.  To the south (left in the pictures) is the neighboring property, so we'll set a walkway of pavers on that side.  On the north, on the other side of the fence, is our parking lot, so that'll be easy to manage.  To the west is soil on the other side of the fence, so we'll have to keep the weeds there under control.  And to the east you can see grass and weeds, so we'll continue our paver walkway on that side.

On top of the cardboard, we dumped about 20 gallons of sawdust I happened to have on hand, and mixed in more composted manure.  Then we laid down a soaker hose, spiraling in to cover the area well.  Finally, we added a couple inches of mulch.  I'm a little embarrassed to say I bought some organic mulch (seems silly, when so many people are trying to get rid of yard waste that's perfectly suitable for mulch).
We added stepping stones to define a central area, where our 3 sisters will live.  To plant seeds, we just scoop aside the top layer of mulch, poke a hole in the cardboard, place a few handfulls of soil in the hole, and plant in that soil.  Over time, all the layers will decompose into humus-rich soil.

"3 sisters" are the traditional trio of corn, beans and squash.  First we planted the corn in a ring in the center.  Once the corn is about 10" high, we'll intersperse it with bean seeds.  The corn forms a framework for the beans to climb on, and the beans fix nitrogen in the soil.  After the bean seedlings show, we'll round out the trio by planting squash around the perimeter (still inside the path of stepping stones).  The squash will spread out and its broad leaves will further protect the ground from evaporation.

We'll also pack in other plants around the outside of the stepping stone path.  For instance, we planted sunflowers in the NW corner.

Thank you, Liz, for your help on this garden plot!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Music from Scrap Material

We have some leftover 1" conduit from our laundry project (see post below), so we're going to put it to use.

Here's the first prototype.

You guessed it - wind chimes.  The pitch of this one is A4.  It's surprisingly easy to get a pleasant, sustained tone from a piece of scrap.  There will be some design modifications, but the plan is to create 2 complementary sets of these - one set with A C E G A E, and the other with F(5) C D F A.  So one set will sound an Am7 chord, and the other, an Fmaj6.  The combination will have quite a complex of possibilities, hopefully with a pleasing balance of consonance and dissonance.  Time will tell.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Project Afoot

There's been a project afoot at Sage Garden.  It started with a trench.

And continued with a shed (thanks to my Dad for his help on this).
Next came a clothesline.

There will be a white tarp overhead, which will shed water to the right.  One thing we have an overabundance of here is granite, so ...
Let's put it to use, right?

Give me a few weeks, and the first phase of this project will be complete.  Let me know if you'd like to come take a look.  That's all I'm going to say for now.