Garden revolution

There are a few articles floating around out there about a garden revolution in the front yard, but somehow I feel they don’t go far enough. I understand that swapping out a lawn for raised beds is already a sea-change for many folks (and their Homeowner Associations) but I’d like to encourage us to make that extra step toward welcoming everything that lives in a garden, even the ones we can’t see. Maybe especially the things we can’t see. It’s difficult to structure a raised bed to readily welcome fungi, soil organisms, minute insect life, and opportunistic seed growth, but any old patch of dirt will prove a living welcome mat for all those things if you just leave room.

I’ve come to understand that organized garden beds are really for the humans. We like to keep inventory and we’re easily distracted so we plant what we want to keep in neat rows and discard the rest. Moving toward the idea that our choice edibles grow best when hidden from predators and mulched against extremes of weather, here’s a set of photos matched up with a list of what has been planted amidst the chaos in my yard.

Gardening front yardThis section of the front yard contains: amaranth, Kentucky Pole and Scarlet Runner beans, daylilies, witchhazel, rhubarb, peas, crabapple, tomatoes, potatoes (4 varieties), sweet corn, persimmon, pumpkins, cucumbers, winter squash, willow, sour (pie) cherry, quincy, lingonberries, cranberries, plum, comfrey, grapes, and allium.

garden inventory side yard

The side yard, and along the path to the driveway: dill, madder, strawberries, tomatoes (5 varieties), parsley, carrots, leeks, garlic, one pumpkin plant (I guess I lost track), grapes, willow, elecampne, hosta, gunnera, astilbe, blueberries, cecephalus, and just off to the right of this photo, plum, apple, tree peony.

garden inventory dooryardIn Maine parlance this is the dooryard – just down the steps from the front door: edible dandelion, calendula, columbine, mullein, anise hyssop, golden beets, Bull’s Blood beets (grown for the ruby-red foliage); yellow Australian, Red Sails, Winter Romaine, and Thom Thumb lettuces, assorted mustards, bergenia, feverfew, tatsoi, senposi, minutia, poppies, and honeysuckle.

Therefore, a manifesto to gardeners everywhere (and with apologies to Freemasons), chao ab ordo!

Garden Movie (the trailer)

Maine is an extraordinary place to garden. The seasonal extremes are right on the edge of survival for many common edible plants with a daylight range of 6.5 to nearly 18 hours and temperatures from minus 15  to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The visual evidence of the garden changes dramatically from bare ground and branches, to 3 – 5 feet of snow cover, back to brown and then an explosion of bright green starting in May. To capture some of this process I began taking a photo a day this spring, focusing on exactly the same spot from the same location. I plan to knit them together into a little animated garden movie. (The plot won’t be much but the acting is terrific.) I won’t have time for the project till winter sets in, but meanwhile – here’s the first photo from April 8, 2013

April 8, 2013And here’s the same view on Saturday, June 15. The road is now only visible when I catch a car going by.

June 15, 2013What a difference a few hours daily gain of sunlight can make!


May gardens be wild like jungles. . .

A Prayer for the 21st Century, by John Marsden

May the road be free for the journey,Flame azalea
May it lead where it promised it would.
May the stars that gave ancient bearings
Be seen and be understood:
May every aircraft fly safely;
May every traveler be found;
May sailors in crossing the seas,
Not hear the cries of the drowned. MayHerb: angelica
gardens be wild like jungles,
May nature never be tamed.
May dangers create of us heroes,
May fears always have names.
May the mountains stand to remind us
Of what it means to be young;
May we be outlived by our daughters,
May we be outlived by our sons.

May the bombs rust away in the bunkers,
And the doomsday clock be rewound;
May the solitary scientists, working,
Remember the holes in the ground.
May the knife remain in the holder,
May the bullet stay in the gun,
May those who live in the shadows
Be seen by those in the sun.

Mrs. Moon

A day in the garden

I have Wednesdays off from my day job in the summer. This week was the first time it’s been warm enough out to work without bundling up in longjohns and canvas gloves. Here’s what got done: looking south, planted Fedco’s beneficials mix next to the path (under the white Agro row cover), and moved some logs around down in the main garden.

looking south Planted Arava Cantaloupe and Athena Muskmelons in the newly re-covered hoop house. My min/max thermometer showed a range of 128 – minus 15 degrees through last fall and winter.

hoop house


Planted Giant Winter and Bordeaux spinach, tatsoi, and radishes in the bed under the pear tree. The green leaves are sorrel, ready to be picked for Saturday dinner with haddock and rice.


Moving more (big, heavy, not getting any lighter as time goes on) spruce logs around as garden bed borders.

Moving logs around, again.

Once upon a time. . .

. . .it was summer in the garden. Not today, because we’re having a raw, wet March day with snow still on the ground, but summer will be back around soon. I was going through my photo files to find a particular study of quince and wild apples and found a few images that reminded me of what the weather will bring in the coming months once March with its snowy mornings is out of the way.

Below, a steam canner full of Beta and Somerset grapes ready to put the lid on, turn up the burner, and make juice. The vines look thin and sad in the garden right now because the posts are crooked and some of the wires are down, but I’ll be able to set things right in April. I made almost 5 gallons of grape juice concentrate last year and it was wonderful – rich and sweet. More on the way for 2014 as the vines mature!

steam canner full of grapes

My pallet after painting peaches and geranium blossoms in the hoop house under the summer evening sun – light enough to work until 9 pm.


Setting up to make tomato sauce on the Hoosier cabinet. We put up 5 gallons (in pint jars) in 2012, none in 2011 due to virus, we’ll have to see what 2014 will bring.


Changes in the garden

Sometimes gardening is very subtle, nothing a traveler on our gravel road might notice passing by. This weekend Billy Guess from Eagle Aboreculture came by and took down the 45′ double-trunked spruce that grew right in the middle of the garden, and people have been screeching to a halt in the middle of the road all day.

It was a beautiful tree, the last one standing from a stand of conifers between the house and road. It was so tall that I can’t really find any good pictures of its entire length, but this is the base rising up from the middle of garden.

spruce before


big spruce before

As much as we thought it was too nice to cut down with the original clearing (thanks, Richard!). it had become weakened by standing on its own. The ground turned soft during the rain storm last weekend and I watched as the whole plate of roots around the tree rose and fell with the wind. It would have taken out the wires and possibly the southwest corner of the house if it fell, so we called Billy and he brought his crew around on Friday.

big spruce down 1I wasn’t around to witness the work, but R. said it was amazing to see someone all the way at the top, cutting huge chunks of (very heavy) tree trunk and dropping them strategically around the yard. Not one plant was damaged, and I have a lot of plantings right around the base of that tree.

big spruce down 2The view from the house: I had no idea the size of the shadow this tree cast against the house and garden beds. We have a lot more sun at all times of day now!

big spruce down logs

Big, heavy pieces of tree stacked neatly and waiting to be used as foundation for new garden beds. Great results – thanks, Eagle!

Blizzard cookies

The wind is beating on the metal roof and the falling snow is so cold and fine that we had tiny drifts under the steel framed front door this morning. It’s a good time to make cookies: baking at 350 degrees F will help heat the house and I can’t run the oven after the power goes out, which is inevitable with 50 mph gusts in the forecast.

Blizzard Cookies

These cookies are based on the “Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookie” recipe on the Quaker Oatmeal box top. My family likes to add walnuts and chocolate chips, so I’ve made adjustments to accommodate the extra dry ingredients and left out half the butter. The result is a higher, “cakier” cookie that stores well and is perfect for lunchboxes.



“Cakey” Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

  • 1/2  cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
  • 3/4  cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2  cup granulated sugar
  • 3  eggs
  • 1  teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2  cups all-purpose flour
  • 1  teaspoon baking soda
  • 1  teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/2  teaspoon salt
  • 3  cups uncooked oats (Irish, commerical “quick oats”, traditional long-cooking, it doesn’t seem to matter)
  • 1  cup raisins
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Put away the mixer and add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt and mix well by hand. Add oats, nuts, chips, and raisins; mix well.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets or Silpats. The Quaker Oats recipe specifies ungreased surfaces, but that can be a problem using only half the fat of the original recipe.
Bake 10 -12 minutes (my oven needs 12) or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.

Winter gardening

I only needed two pieces of equipment in the garden today, but I think these are the best of their kind: Deer Scram and studded Muck boots.

Deer Scram and Muck Boots

Muck boots come in lots of variations, but these have high, water proof, insulated uppers and metal studs all over the soles. Very punk-culture and very handy for navigating the packed-down, frozen paths on our hill.  I think I picked these up through the awesome folks at Sierra Trading Post a few years ago, but their inventory comes and goes – I don’t know if this particular model is still available. If you find them I can guarantee you’ll never slip on ice or snow again. You’ll have to take them off before you go back inside because they’re holy terror on floor boards, but it’s totally worth it.

Deer Scram is another great invention – powdered deer and rabbit repellent so you don’t have to use a sprayer in sub-freezing temps. This afternoon I followed deer tracks out of the woods and into the gardens to broadcast powder wherever it seemed I could head them off, paying special attention to particularly attractive targets like the cherry trees. It seems to discourage the deer establishing pathways where I don’t want them to go – and where they wouldn’t intrude if the electric fences were on.

Meanwhile, the structure of the garden becomes more evident in the snow – a good lesson for the gardener/designer. This is the start of a willow deer fence that should be fully trained by 2014,

Willow fence

and the withy holding back the south slope improves in size and density every year.

Willow withy retaining wall