With last night’s full moon we left the cold, wet Spring for full-on 90 degree sun and westerly winds at 20 knots – suddenly it’s summer. The garden will change rapidly now as the plants soak up more than 16 hours of sunlight a day. Here goes an attempt to catch up!
I started this post just after the Strawberry Full Moon on June 9. Then I went outside to harvest some green onions and lettuce and the garden pulled me under. I’ve been planting green beans and throwing hay on the potatoes, putting in the second crop of peas and wrapping tree tape and Tanglefoot on the fruit trees. Today I have a few minutes on a rainy Saturday morning and will perhaps get this post published before the Buck Moon on July 9!
Ripening strawberries, var Sparkle. We netted the plants against rodents this year but the goshawks in the nearby Kittredge Forest Preserve are doing their part to keep the red squirrel population in check.
The tree peony in full bloom – a huge draw with the early morning honeybees.
Dwarf Sour Cherry tree “Carmine Jewel”, will grow to about 7′ and about as wide, good for keeping the fruit in easy reach. I hate to pick from a ladder! Some growers report harvesting 20 – 30 lbs of fruit from one tree so there’s really no need to go bigger. This one is developing a nice trunk and is loaded with fruit.
Baby Seckel pears will be ripe in late September. The white splotches on the leaves are left after spraying with Surround CP, a white clay in suspension that forms a barrier against pests.
Baby peaches on the Garnet Beauty peach tree. The bees did good work this year.
The view out the front door facing south, with a new bed (beets and carrots) and of course the fixtures of every Maine garden: giant spruce trees and an electric fence charger!
Here’s to fitting in a post before the Sturgeon Moon on August 7th!
I very much wanted to title this piece “Mrs. M. and the Cherry Tree That Desperately Needs Pruning” but that sounded too much like the next Harry Potter novel.
This is a study for a larger painting, but we have to get our model time in when we can (especially during blackfly season).
Ivory Black on panel, 24 x 24
Hibiscus is one of the last perennials to “wake up” every spring in the Maine garden, but is reliably, improbably, hardy in zone 5. Come September the flowers glow like torches lit against the dark maroon foliage. An autumn morning cloudy sky and apple branches add to the illusion that the papery flowers, beloved of Kali, are lit from within.
Hibiscus #1, 36 x 24, oil on panel
A new piece that explores my new ideal of representing plants surrounded by both their environment and compatriots; a group portrait as if Rembrandt’s Night Watch were tall herbs assembling on the garden path in all their finery.
Elecampne on the Garden Path, oil on panel, 36 x 24
It’s 38 degrees F and raining steadily, all the more reason to stay indoors with the Fedco seed catalog reading about late season tomatoes and South American grain crops. This year, with tax and shipping, I spent about $75 on seeds – which should allow me to just break even with the cost of shopping for the same stuff at the grocery store. That’s not including any price break for quality or the convenience of picking dinner just outside the door, but equally does not allow for the sweat equity of labor, management, and cursing the inevitable August drought.
I have a weakness for odd plants that are shy and difficult to grow and every year Fedco lists new challenges. Ramps, for instance, are so fascinating I’m including the entire description from the catalog:
Allium tricoccum (6-18 months) Open-pollinated. Sometimes called Wild Leeks. Their delectable pungent flavor, a mix of garlic and onion, speaks to their wild nature, and satisfies our long wait. Not a good germinator; expect less than 50%. The name Chicago was probably derived from shikaakwa, the native Miami-Illinois people’s word for ramps, which grew in profusion along the rivers in that area. Ramps are a native perennial of deciduous forests, growing best in cool shady areas with damp rich soil high in organic matter and calcium. Because this is a wild plant, seed planted in the spring will germinate that spring if conditions are right; if not, it may germinate the next spring. Mark your patches well and provide protection from predation. Once a bulb is formed, the new leaves emerge in early spring, before the tree canopy develops; by late spring leaves die back and a flower stalk emerges. Photosynthetic period and the harvest window is limited to these few weeks. Once established, ramps grow in close communities, strongly rooted just beneath the soil surface. Harvest carefully with a sharp knife, cutting plants just above the roots. Disturb the roots as little as possible and your ramps will likely come back. Chefs who demand the roots attached are contributing to the over-harvesting problem.
Be sure to check out the links to Sea Kale and Tarwi, and patronize your local seed-saving organization or agricultural co-op – they’re doing the good work for all of us.
210A – Strike Bush Green Beans ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
658A – Silver Queen White Sweet Corn ( A=2oz ) 1 x $2.60 = $2.60
818A – Oregon Giant Snow Peas ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
927A – Mayor Canary Melon ( A=0.4g ) 1 x $3.40 = $3.40
1047A – Verona Watermelons ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
1234A – Cross Country Pickling Cucumbers ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
1411A – Black Zucchini Zucchini ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $0.90 = $0.90
1504A – Saffron Yellow Summer Squash ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
1630A – Uncle Davids Dakota Dessert OG Buttercup/Kabocha Winter Squash ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $2.00 = $2.00
1718A – Winter Luxury OG Pumpkins ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
2028A – Coral Carrots ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2073A – Shin Kuroda 5" Carrots ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
2156A – Cylindra Beets ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $0.90 = $0.90
2182A – Detroit Dark Red Short Top Beets ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $0.90 = $0.90
2433A – Ramps Onions and Leeks ( A=1g ) 1 x $3.50 = $3.50
2719A – Bronze Arrowhead OG Leaf Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2786A – Red Tinged Winter OG Leaf Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
2787A – De Morges Braun OG Leaf Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2803A – Tom Thumb Butterhead Lettuce ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
2879A – Parris Island Cos Romaine Lettuce ( A=2g ) 1 x $0.90 = $0.90
3021A – Ice-Bred OG Arugula ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $2.00 = $2.00
3099A – Sea Kale Sea Kale ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.30 = $2.30
3204A – Green Lance Green Lance ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
3223A – Yokatta-Na Yokatta-Na ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3260A – Shuko Pac Choy ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
3311A – Green King Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
3313A – Bay Meadows Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.90 = $1.90
3380A – Frigga Cabbages ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
3451A – Beedys Camden OG Kale ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3469A – Kale Mix Kale ( A=2g ) 2 x $1.70 = $3.40
4083A – Weisnichts Ukrainian OG Tomatoes ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
4117A – Principe Borghese Cherry Tomatoes ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
4296A – Pasta Paste Tomatoes ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
4314A – Tarwi Lupinus ( A=2g ) 1 x $2.60 = $2.60
4414A – Sweet Basil Basil ( A=4g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4588A – Lemon Balm Lemon Balm ( A=0.3g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4692A – Blue Vervain OG Blue Vervain ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
4836A – Carnival Amaranths ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
5351A – Ziar Breadseed OG Poppies ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
5411B – Gentian Sage Salvias ( B=0.3g ) 1 x $3.30 = $3.30
5611A – Perennial Sweet Pea Sweet Peas ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
An old friend in Portland gifted us with a piece of an old rose that grew in his father’s back yard. Hardy and sweet, it blooms once in midsummer on stems that arch nearly 10′, loaded down with pink blossoms and silvery foliage.
Morning Rose, 24 x 18, oil on panel
Morning Rose, detail
Every summer I look out the front door in amazement at the sheer amount of green in the yard. It happens fast, growing from tiny sprouts in the cold, hard ground of March into mountains of thick stems and new fruit in July, fast forward through August’s drought into September’s harvest and back to ground level in November, under a blanket of snow. This year I have a new element in “waffle beds”; depressions dug below ground level to increase drought tolerance. I began making raised beds into recessed “waffles” back in April but the technique has really proven itself during the last three weeks of searing heat and zero rainfall. Here is the waffle structure near the front of the house, photos taken once a month from May through mid-August:
We’ve had some precipitation this month but it has come as sudden downpours of heavy rain over a short period. My raised beds never absorbed much water because the deluge simply rolled off the dry, caked soil on top – although the recessed paths on the sides (where all the moisture ended up) generally looked great after a storm. This year, no matter how hard and suddenly it came down, rain pooled at the bottom of the depression where it would do the most good. After a week of sun and August heat the bottom of each waffle, shaded by plant foliage or mulch, is still moist and friable.
I have begun transitioning the entire garden over to recessed beds, mostly waffles but with an experiment in “swale” gardening on a south-facing slope (to be explored in a different post!). There are a few places where I’ve dug to a depth of 18″ and found ledge – very common in Downeast Maine. I’m using the same process of adding good soil to the bottom of the waffle, but will track these particular beds and see if drainage becomes an issue. I’ve also made a note not to plant root vegetables in these locations just yet! It may be that I eventually build higher walls around the ledge-prone areas to provide extra depth without digging, but soil is at a premium in this garden and the experiment will have to wait for now.
Waffle beds are the opposite of the raised beds that have become a fixture in US gardens since the 60’s. Unfortunately, raised beds don’t work well in my micro-climate: mid-summer droughts make it difficult to get moisture to the plant roots, and our soil is light and sandy and doesn’t compact well in a heap. For years I’ve noticed that plants (mostly weeds) grow better in the depressions between beds but it wasn’t until this April that I began to take advantage of this. This is the first waffle bed I made almost two months ago, now full of well-grown celtuce and brassicas with a mixed cover crop around the edges.
The depression seems to have kept the seedlings sheltered from the cold winds and night frosts during our late spring. The waffles definitely increase water retention. Below are the first beds I dug near the house for our tomatoes and you can clearly see the color contrast between the dry walls and damp lower level.
The same seedlings, one week later and about twice the size. They evidently like the additional shelter and moisture, while the cover crop of Phacelia Tanacetifolia is drought-tolerant and sprouts well on the waffle “walls”. (I’ve planted 10 beds of at least 5 plants each – to the tune of 700 lbs of tomatoes as a conservative estimate of yield. Come September I may be posting extensively on tomato sauce production.)
This bed in the lower garden has been divided into five waffles: peach tree, cabbages, Provider bush green beans (still under row cover), BlueGold potatoes, and the far bed of celtuce and brassicas pictured above. Everything seems to be thriving. I’ve planted the poor soil heaped between waffles with nasturtiums and a low-growing cover crop mix, mostly to help hold the soil in place during the first year.
I’m pleased with this method so far! Next post will be on this weekend’s project: swales as a solution for “depression” gardening on a south facing slope. Here is a terrific introduction on swale gardening from Tenth Acre Farm.
What is a Swale?
Yesterday I posted a little bit of history on the evolution of raised beds in American gardening (after finding many more scholarly articles on the subject than I could have imagined) and then I went outside and did a practical experiment on waffle bed gardening by digging holes in the ground. Well, that wasn’t all there was to it, actually.
I started by digging a trench and piling the soil up on either side. I was planning to save the good topsoil to a special spot and use it to top off the eventual “waffle” but honestly there wasn’t enough to bother with. I do have a bumper crop of roots, rocks, and yellow clay.
Here I’ve finished digging the bed out to below grade. I filled the bottom layer of the walls with old firewood and the rocks (many, many rocks) that came out of the interior, then piled soil and clay on top. One of the sources says to walk around on the walls to tamp them down; you’ll want to walk on them later so it’s a good idea to make sure they’ll hold your weight safely.
I sat on one wall of the bed (very comfortable!) and planted celtuce and Brussels sprouts. The forecast is still for below freezing temps overnight this week but these seedlings have been hardening off for a few days and should be fine under row cover.
I covered the cell with wire hoops and some row cover. Now the forecast is calling for snow tonight (April 9th!) so I’m going to lower the floating row cover to the plant level and stretch some clear plastic vented material over the hoops for a double layer of protection. Fortunately I have plenty of seedlings!
As I’m writing this at 11 a.m. the temps are still hovering around the freezing mark, although it’s pleasant enough if you’re standing in full sun. I plan to continue laying out new beds but refrain from planting anything else out until next week at the earliest. Questions or feedback, let me know!
The title of this post drew you right in, didn’t it? My apologies. This isn’t a post about delicious breakfast treats served with maple syrup, it’s even better than that. This is a revolution in gardening technique and it begins with a rebellion against the most popular home gardening trope of the century – raised beds.
There are various theories on the origin of the raised bed in the American landscape, but most point to a series of very popular television shows that promoted them for their orderly appearance and ease of management. Digging over rectangular coffin-sized sections of the garden and segregating them into different plant varieties has advantages, but most of these examples were produced under ideal conditions with superior soil and abundant irrigation. Those of us with very little or very poor soil and irregular rainfall had less favorable results. In the long haul, root action forces salts to the elevated surface and the resulting crust sheds water down the sides of the bed. I don’t water or irrigate and rainfall is rarely gentle or consistent enough to work through the top layers – especially when it breaks a drought and the soil is very dry.
In this sense, it’s very much like I’m gardening in a desert – a desert of my own making! Waffle beds have been used for centuries in gardens all over the world to address just this problem. Instead of building up, and exposing more soil to air and sun (good for plants and bad for dirt) the waffle bed sinks the level of productive soil below a surrounding dike of poor soil, conserving water and nutrients as well as providing a wind break.
I’m planning on spending the day building my first waffles (well, after the dump run, visiting with my mother, getting the groceries in. . .) and will post Part Two of this saga shortly. Meanwhile, here’s a drawing from Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands, courtesy of Amarillo Tableland, who posted this in 2011 and has an excellent series on seasonal results.
From Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands