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
I’ve held off on ordering seeds this year in hopes it will keep me from starting the tomatoes too soon and having them grow into hedges under the lights down cellar. Looking back at 20 years of records this is my latest order to date and the earliest was in November of 2002, back in the bad old days when we filled out the complex Fedco orders in the cheap newsprint catalog. The ink bled through the pages and I got my maths wrong every year.
Now the order form is online and does all the sums automagically. After some judicious editing for costs and allowing for a few indulgences, behold the 2016 seed order, below. Indulgences include:
Good King Henry, an open-pollinated perennial used as a pot-herb. I had always assumed it was named for an actual monarch, but no: Henry comes from the germanic haganrich which is literally ‘king of the hedge,’ a gremlin with goose’s feet that helps around the house and puts things where they belong. I’ll be able
Balady Aswan Celtuce, I feel like this would make a good band name, or an unbreakable password in a sci-fi movie. It’s actually a variety of Egyptian lettuce that is “customarily allowed to bolt and enjoyed for its 12–14″ crunchy stems with creamy flavor”. This is just the sort of thing that should growing in my garden.
230A – Jade Bush Green Beans ( A=2oz ) 1 x $2.30 = $2.30
298A – Windsor Fava Beans ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
658A – Silver Queen White Sweet Corn ( A=2oz ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
818A – Oregon Giant Snow Peas ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
916A – Dove Ananas Type ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.40 = $2.40
1312A – Marketmore 76 Slicing Cucumbers ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
2058A – Red Cored Chantenay Carrots ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
2093A – Yaya OG Carrots ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
2149A – Touchstone Gold OG Beets ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $2.00 = $2.00
2425A – Bleu de Solaize Leeks ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2538A – Avon Spinach ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2715A – Balady Aswan OG Celtuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.30 = $2.30
2764A – Blushed Butter Oaks OG Leaf Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
2768A – Lingua di Canarino (Canary Tongue) OG Leaf Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2773A – Hyper Red Rumple Waved OG Leaf Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
2921A – Anuenue OG Batavian Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2985A – Red Carpet Lettuce Mix OG Lettuce Mix ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
3096A – Good King Henry Good King Henry ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3218A – Senposai Senposai ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
3223A – Yokatta-Na Yokatta-Na ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
3226A – Early Mizuna OG Mizuna ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
3309A – Green Super Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3327A – Piracicaba Broccoli ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
3339A – Gustus Brussels Sprouts ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $2.80 = $2.80
3397A – Wirosa Savoy Cabbages ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $2.00 = $2.00
3459A – Darkibor Kale ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
3461A – Red Russian Kale ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
3776A – Feher Ozon OG Sweet Peppers ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
4038A – Cosmonaut Volkov OG Tomatoes ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
4059A – Cherokee Purple OG Tomatoes ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
4146A – Blue Beech OG Paste Tomatoes ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
4253A – Jasper OG Cherry Tomatoes ( A=0.02g ) 1 x $3.60 = $3.60
4414A – Sweet Basil Basil ( A=4g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4510A – Bodegold Chamomile Chamomile ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
4588A – Lemon Balm Lemon Balm ( A=0.3g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4668A – Silver Sagebrush White Sage ( A=0.02g ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
4836A – Carnival Amaranths ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
5350A – Elka OG Poppies ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
5351A – Ziar Breadseed OG Poppies ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
5611A – Perennial Sweet Pea Sweet Peas ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
Total for seeds this year = $66.90, plus $4.00 USD that I’m spending on Heirloom Black Sea Samsun Turkish tobacco seed from Hart’s because I think the bees are going to go crazy over tobacco blossoms.
In 2010 I bought a Dawn Redwood tree (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) from Fedco Trees. Fedco specializes in small, very well-rooted specimens that are easy to ship and plant. True to form, what I unpacked from that shipment was the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree of redwoods: 2′ tall with a twiggy trunk and sparse, irregular foliage. I picked a likely spot in our swamp for a tree that would/might eventually reach 100′ and left it to fend for itself (which is my favorite philosophy for growing trees). It worked!
Yesterday I went out to visit what has become my favorite tree in the garden. The soft, deciduous foliage is turning bronze – equally as beautiful as the luminescent green color in spring. The trunk caliper has increased to 11″, showing off the striated golden-orange bark that will only become deeper and more colorful with age.
R. complimented me on picking a good spot. This is about 15′ from our driveway, which means that if it does get to 100′ (not likely in Maine) the buttressed trunk will probably not interfere with our carpark. Probably.
Might have room for a giant, prehistoric tree in your yard? Fedco has them in this year’s catalog:
Dawn Redwood 100′ One of the most spectacular of the ornamental trees. The wide irregular trunk looks like something out of a fairy tale with its iridescent golden-orange bark that becomes deeply grooved, hollowed and fluted with age. The bright green deciduous needles turn orange in the fall. Grows quickly, up to 50′ in 15–20 years, with many small-diameter horizontal branches and a uniform conical habit. Give it lots of space to grow! Highly adaptable, easy to transplant. Prefers moist deep well-drained slightly acid soil in full sun. Will tolerate wet or dry sites. Pollution resistant; good specimen or street tree, rarely needs pruning. Fossils dating back 50 million years have been found in Japan. Thought to be extinct until it was “rediscovered” in central China in 1941. Resembles California redwoods only vaguely. Metasequoia glyptostroboides Native to China and Japan. Z4. ME Grown. (1-3′ bare-root trees)
525A: 1 for $15.00
This will be my first winter using an in-hive warmer and, as usual, I’m posting both to share the information and keep a history going for myself. I installed the Warmbees product in August during my last full hive inspection. (Note that Warmbees has changed the configuration on their heater from the one I purchased – the new model looks more compact and can be re-oriented for use in a top bar hive.)
Photo credit: www.warmbees.com
Installation couldn’t be easier: select the temperature range (mine is set to low to maintain a temperature of about 40 degrees F), drape the wire ribbon with LED signal light and the cord over the edge of the hive box, and plug it in to an extension cord. Naturally, this requires the colony to be within cord distance of an electrical outlet. I haven’t quite figured out a battery/solar configuration yet. There’s no assembly required and you don’t need to know anything about wiring. The tiny LED makes a reassuring glow in the front yard:
I used an Imirie shim installed with the opening toward the back of the hive to run the cord and ribbon through, and blocked the extra space with dry grass. When I wrap the hive with insulation for winter in November I’ll tape over the hole as the bees should be used to it by then. When I replaced the quart mason jar of sugar syrup for fall feeding today (they’ve been going through a quart every three days) I noticed that they’ve built beautiful, regular comb over the wires running on top of the frame.
The beauty of this device is that it is controlled by the internal temperature of the hive box. Other products that wrap around the outside of the equipment doesn’t sense the heat generated by the cluster of bees and by overheating them can convince them to fly in freezing weather. We had a frost last night but with a good sized cluster generating its own warmth the heater hasn’t needed to go on to keep the internal temp at around 40. I have high hopes that this product will help an otherwise healthy colony last through the long, cold Maine winter and the cold, wet spring that follows.
The garden in late September after the first frost:
Sometimes I just want to paint structure and there’s nothing like a glass jar buttressed stems, leathery leaves and huge, recurved thorns to work out that urge. These blackberry bushes grow uncultivated along the edge of our gravel road but the blossoms are huge, white and surprisingly delicate for living on nothing but dust and neglect.
Blackberries and Cherries, drawing in progress, vine charcoal on gessoed panel, 40 x 32
The garden in July is a nine-day wonder. Every year I’m amazed that the tiny seeds of March grow into a vegetable forest in only 100 days.
The dry gravel in the dooryard continues to improve with the addition of seaweed, hay, and now Bio-Char, a soil amendment of organic material heated in a low-oxygen environment. I find it changes the texture and moisture properties of the bed almost immediately. The early Romaine and Blue Lake green beans seem to like it very well.
I reclaimed a row of angelica as a new site for yellow, purple, and red raspberries this year but it’s impossible to get every plant – evidence below. Angelica makes excellent bee forage and, at 6′ tall, there’s plenty of forage on each plant. The basswood tree behind it didn’t flower this year and I miss the long golden racemes but I’m not surprised at the branch damage with the temps settling at 15 F below for days at a time last winter.
William Lobb, an old moss rose with intensely fragrant and sticky burr along each bud and branch, with a rugosa hybrid “Hugo” in back, both covered in bees.
One rhubarb plant is really all you’ll ever need. Seriously. To think I’d planned on three?
One of the new colonies, both of which are settling in beautifully. The bees are in the lower portion (or “deep”). The upper two boxes are empty and hold an inverted quart Mason jar with holes punched in the lid to feed sugar syrup during the colony’s transition to a new place. They’ve stopped taking the sugar so I haven’t refilled the jar. The bed of Phacelia (Bee’s Friend) directly in front of the hive is constantly alive with pollinator traffic of all kinds, not just the hived honeybees.
Phacelia is a new addition to the garden for 2015. I’ve sown it nearly everywhere I had bare ground this year. It sprouts generously and easily from seed under harsh conditions, the ferny undergrowth shades the soil to conserve moisture during these hot dry days, and the bees are on the flowers at all times of the day so the nectar flow must be near continuous. I think my next exploration is Nectoroscodum siculum, or Mediterranean Nectar Garlic – a fragrant allium that seeps nectar from drooping flower bells- wow.
So much is happening in the garden: two new hives of bees, new bee fodder (phacelia!), new green manure mixtures, and a foray into next-gen gardening with Bio-Char. I want to write about all of it but there’s still life material growing out there too. The Ruby-Gold ornamental quince put out flowering branches for the first time this year; combined with a new thrift store tablecloth it made an excellent color study.
Quince in a Tan Vase, 24 x 18, oil on panel
Three weeks ago I looked out on the ocean of yellow “lion’s-tooth” flowers in our front yard and thought, I ought to paint some of those. This is the study, but there will be more (MANY MORE) coming soon.
Dandelions in a Blue Glass, oil on panel, 20 x 16
The first crop to be direct-seeded is always the peas. Some years I have tomato seedlings under lights that are weeks old, lettuce and green onions in flats, trays of cosmos and delphinium, but all those will have to wait until May before venturing outside. The peas are hardy souls, they love the icy soil, and they’re cheap enough that I can re-sow a batch if the temperatures drop too low.
This year we have nearly 4′ of snow over the entire garden. We had a few days this week where the temperatures finally made it above freezing but the snow pack simply settled and solidified. It’s not going anywhere fast. Yesterday I decided to help it along a little by digging through the drifts at the front of the house and excavating a bed to help it warm up under a sheet of black plastic.
Our metal roof dumps snow easily, which is a good thing when we don’t have to climb up there and shovel if off, and a bad thing when I have to cut through 5 – 6′ of packed drifts. Here’s the path to the spring pea bed (eventually):
I was very pleased that I managed to aim right to the corner of the pea bed – that is some NASA level shoveling right there.
Now to shovel off the bed proper and cover it with black plastic to warm up:
For reference, this is what the rest of the garden looks like now, in March:
And this is the same view in June, 2014:
For my bee group, all that yellow bloom is Dyer’s Woad, Isatis tinctoria. It’s a wonderful bee plant and a good source of blue dye.