Thursday, August 25, 2016

Backyard Project: Progress in Zone 3 - The Fruit Hedge

Earlier in the spring we made a start on establishing a fruit hedge as the beginning edge of Zone 3 in the Backyard Project.

The soil was so compacted because it had been the materials storage site during the construction of my studio.
A raised bed in the lasagne style was built up on top of the compacted soil - green then brown. The layers still weren't broken down enough when Sammy brought the trees for the hedge so he planted them in their positions but left them in their pots. 
It was an awkward shape to water without watering the bare ground inside the 'U' shape at the same time so we decided to use it as a place to make more soil.

We marked out a path with untreated boards left over from the studio construction to smother any grass that might be tempted to grow. In the middle of the 'U' we built up layers of paper, cardboard, coffee grounds, grass clippings (until the mower broke down), and shredded prunings in alternating layers with a good watering between each layer.

We had Douglas-fir chips left over from making garden paths so we put the rest on top of the wooden board path which will provide fungus for the nearby soil but we can easily pick it up again if we want to make another path in the garden.

We put a border between the path and hedge soil bed using hucked logs from the last 2 trees that had to be cut down. Hucking - a forester's term for cutting logs into manageable lengths - makes them small enough for me to carry in my wheelbarrow from the forest to this bed and I can lift and maneuver them in place.
By this stage, we decided the layers in the hedge bed had decomposed enough (the soil temperature had dropped below cooking level) to take the trees out of their pots and put them in the soil.

Fig trees alternating with 2 feijoa/pineapple guava trees.
I gave them a light prune and a deep watering.
Now they can get down to growing while they spread their roots.

This is the beginning of Zone 3. I haven't designed any more of this zone because I am focusing on implementing my plan for Zones 1 and 2. It is always such a temptation to keep developing new areas before the bulk of the work is done in the zones closer to the house. We want to work on manageable chunks, getting the beds to the stage where they look after themselves before moving further out. Otherwise, it might all become overwhelming.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Backyard Project: Soil Building Continues

These are a few of my favourite tools that I haul around to work on building up soil in different beds. Not shown are my trusty wheelbarrow - a birthday gift from Ron, and my pruning shears that I always wear on my hip when gardening.

I have planted 4 different types of potatoes to add biomass to the soil. Any potatoes we harvest will be a bonus. 
A deep layer of straw covers the soil. Drip irrigation hoses have been laid around the beds to help with the watering until the irrigation contractor can come and install an irrigation system.

This fooled me. At first, I thought it was a drip hose out of place. Then it moved.

Once I realised what it was I was pleased to see her. She and her snakelets were residents before the backyard project began and I was concerned the recent rock bed construction had chased her away.
We are getting used to each other. She doesn't slither away as quickly anymore and will often just stay put and smell me with her flickering tongue while I work. She appears to have made a new home deep down between the new rocks.
Snakes are a sign of a healthy garden. They eat slugs, frogs, and insects and leave the plants alone. 

I am experimenting with mounding up different materials around the potato stems. When the light is blocked out new potatoes are encouraged to grow out of the stem. Soil is usually mounded up but there is not much extra so I am trying to find other materials on hand that will do the trick.
I am beginning to understand that gardening success is a combination of active observation and experimentation.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Rough and Loose, Green then Brown - Two Gardening Mantras

An ant nest found under a mulch of coffee sacks. The ants were forced to move their colony because I was ready to work on the soil in this bed.

While attending the Organic MasterGardener course Ron and I learnt two very important mantras that continue to guide me as I work at building up the soil in all of the garden beds.
Coffee sacks and a woolen blanket have protected this soil bed until I had time to work on it.

The mulch is removed. The ants are moving out.

A deep watering of  the soil to encourage the soil organisms to get active.

The first mantra is 'Green then Brown'
To make compost whether insitu ontop of the soil or in a trench, or in a compost bin the materials need to be layered by alternating different types.
First the green. I harvested most of the comfrey now the flowers have finished and they are no longer visited much by the bees. It is high in minerals the tap root has brought up from deep in the soil and also high in nitrogen. Comfrey is the 'green' and was the first layer put on the soil.

Next I added shredded branches that are high in carbon as the 'brown' layer. 
The 3rd layer was coffee grounds that are high in nitrogen, a 'green' layer. Technically the grounds I pick up from coffee shops are also high in carbon because there are lots of paper products such as filters and paper cups in the bags. 
So the mantra goes, 'Green then Brown, Green then Brown' which translates to 'nitrogen-rich' then 'carbon-rich' then 'carbon-rich' and so on, until you run out of materials.

Time for the 'chicken scratch' while repeating the 2nd mantra, 'Rough and Loose, Rough and Loose.'
I make like a chicken, lightly mixing the layers together while leaving the surface uneven and light. I avoid standing on the soil as much as possible. This method creates the ideal conditions for supporting soil organism activity.

After a deep watering and the addition of  a final top mulch layer, the bed is ready to hand over to the soil organisms to do their job of making a rich friable soil. 
I ran out of time so put the coffee sacks, blanket and cardboard back in place but will replace it with shredded plant material as soon as I can.
'Green then Brown' - 'Rough and Loose'

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Cryosphere - Hydrosphere completed and out there

Cryosphere II - Hydrosphere, 80"h x 50"w, machine sewing, dry felting, stuffing; nylon, polyester, net, cotton, beads, glitter, Timtex, cotton and rayon thread.
An exploration of the way water changes its molecular structure each time is shifts from a frozen state to a solid state and back again. It is a process known as a phase change and is unique to the water molecule. 

Stuffed icicles of frozen water with bead-filled ends.

Attaching all icicles and flowing water panels together.

Attachment to hanging device
While visiting hardware stores, fishing stores, pharmacies, a haberdashery and chandleries I bought clip-rings, lure swivels, silicon hair ties, tapes of hooks and eyes and nylon cord. I worked with them all to find a hanging device that would allow the panels to hang freely, hang straight and reposition themselves after being moved.
I settled on the tapes of hooks and eyes.

I bounced ideas off Ron, my resident problem-solver. He made a solid wooden frame to hang the work from.

All packed and ready to go with one and a half hours to spare - just enough time for a shower before I have to leave for the gallery. 

At the gallery attaching the hooks to the eyes.
Velcro to hold on the pelmets. An eye screw and carrabena type attachment to hold the wire to suspend the work from an overhead beam.
Cryosphere - Hydrosphere was my entry in the recent Vancouver Island Surface Design Association's annual exhibition 'Current Threads 2016' installed at the CACSP's Tulista Gallery.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Cryosphere II, Hydrosphere - Work Continues

I am working with synthetic sheers. They are so slippery I can't keep the large pieces of fabric under control. Solution - hang them on the wall and take down as needed.

Working on a solution for how to make a soft material appear hard. 
I made tapered tubes. They need weights in the bottoms to keep all lines vertical, just as water falls and freezes.  I considered lead fishing weights but couldn't find any small enough and they would all have to be painted white.

Solution - Beads. I cleaned out my white bead stash then scoured all thrift stores in a 20-mile radius. I sorted them by size and made 3 different soup mixes.

The beads were working weighting down the points but now the tubes didn't look substantial enough. I decided to stuff each tube with a fine interfacing. That took a long time and was hard on my hands.

To give my hands a break I started making the flowing water panels - cheese cloth dry-felted onto flat sheer tubes.

Laying out the flowing water panels to see if I had enough of them and enough variety in length  and width.
In the meantime, in the back of my mind, I am working on how to hang these individual tubes and panels. Percolation time, again.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Work In Progress - Cryosphere II, Hydrosphere

I have the idea - to show the phase change when water hardens then melts.
I have settled on the colour scheme - white (not yellow white), silver and cerulean blue.
I haul out from my stash all of the light to sheer fabrics in those colours.

I collect up all of the threads, papers and embellishments in those colours. 

I draught up a pattern for the size of the panels and cut it out in Tyvek.

Draping the different sheers on the wall gives me an idea of their transparency and drape.
It is looking distinctly bridal in the studio.

Sampling, sampling, sampling.
Sewing on different layer sandwiches. 

Burning and melting station set up.
I test all of the fabrics with a heat gun and a burning tool.

I don't want brown so anything with cotton in it is put away.

I have settled on the colours and fabrics now I need to sample to find a technique that best expresses the idea. I have made lots of drawings and compiled many lists in my workbook.
Now is the 'percolation' phase. It takes time for the ideas to sort themselves out. I record these ideas in my workbook and continue sampling until the way forward is clear.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Blackberries, Irises, Horsetails and Teasels in Walter's Gorge

 The lawn mower is broken. The grass alongside the road is getting long. The blackberry is getting out of control.

I spent a couple of hours cutting back the blackberry that was reaching into Walter's Gorge threatening to cover the beautiful flowers growing there. Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) is classed as an invasive species here in BC and it does invade at our place.

Japanese Water Iris (Iris ensata)
Two years ago after Ron and I had cleared the blackberry jungle out of the seasonal stream that flows into the pond, it sat bare until my sister and brother-in-law came to stay. Sister Donnel, who knows a lot about plants (as does my other sister Megan Rae) looked at the site and pronounced "Japanese water irises and ferns." Brother-in-law Walter did the back breaking work digging up and transferring large ferns to the sides of the stream.

We, plus our mother (a phenomenal gardener) went shopping/hunting for the exotic sounding plant and found 2 varieties.
This is the second year of flowers and they get larger each year. They are obviously very happy with the conditions - soil continually moist to flooded depending on the season, acidic soil/water - runoff from the forest up the hill, shade.
I'll have to ask my sister when I should divide the plants up to keep the flowers large.

Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) - behind the iris - has also flourished. The seeds of this ancient plant were waiting deep in the soil for the right conditions. 
It is a most unusual plant as well as being one of the oldest on the planet. During the Carboniferous dinosaur age, horsetail grew a hundred feet tall. The Romans called it "hair of the earth." 
The hollow stems with 'bad-hair-day' fronds are 30 plus percent silica and a valuable source of the mineral for other plants. Steeping the plant in a barrel of water for a few days produces a rich mineral tea for other plants. 
Horsetail is said to be the best product for cleaning pewter and for polishing wood and glass without scratching. That is the silica at work. I have yet to try it. It all goes in compost and teas and hasn't made it inside the house.

With blackberry on the right, irises and horsetail in the middle, the teasel has grown up on the left side of the bank.

Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum syn. D sylvestris)
This magnificent plant grows to 10 feet tall. It is fascinating to look at its parts in detail.

The leaves cup the rainwater and hold interesting collections of things. I have been trying to catch with my camera a frog bathing in the water. This teasel bath has been known since ancient times as the bath of Venus and said to be good for warts among many other things. 
The most well known and commercially valuable part of the plant is the dead flower head. I'll tell you all about that once I have some pictures of the flower to show you.
With all of these interesting plants to observe it is no wonder I get lost for a few hours while out in the garden.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Permaculture Plants - Comfrey, the Queen of Plants

Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum)
I have planted lots of comfrey in the garden for many reasons. Perhaps the most important one is that it fulfills one of the three ecological gardening principles - succession. Except for the Cut Flower bed, all of the beds in the Backyard Project were new with bare soil. By using comfrey as a first coloniser/pioneer plant it helps prepare the soil for other plants, soil organisms and insects. It starts a progression of life.

Comfrey is an insectary plant in that the flowers attract bees to the garden. Slugs devour the leaves while they work to break down organic matter in the soil. The slugs are a food magnet for birds, frogs, snakes and many other creatures needed in a garden.

I put my shoe beside a leaf to show you how big the comfrey leaves are getting. The plant has a long soil-busting taproot capable of bringing lots of minerals up to the surface. As the soft decaying leaves quickly decompose these minerals are released and made accessible to other plants.
The large leaves cover the soil holding in moisture while providing a cool home for the slugs and many other soil critters.

This is the 'mother bed' under a big leaf maple but it is not working to plan. It is dry under the tree, is not irrigated and the hose doesn't reach this far so I don't expect them to thrive over the summer.
The plants that are thriving and have grown the biggest leaves are in locations that correspond with the sunniest places I found when I did the 'Sun/Shade' analysis map.

Here is the comfrey growing along the bottom edge of the Leaf hugelkultur bed. The leaves are small and the plants are reaching towards the sunny south. But they are still doing a good job building up the soil by making mulch.
Whenever I plant plants I don't need to put a compost soil in the hole first. My sister showed me how to pick a few comfrey leaves, crunch them up and put them in the bottom of the hole before putting the plant on top. It is a mineral boost for the new plant.
I make up a herb tea for the plants by putting comfrey, nettle and horsetail in a big tub of water and leaving it until it has decayed. The plants and soil love this tonic.
I harvest the comfrey three times over the spring and summer laying it on the soil as fertiliser. At the end of August, I leave the plant to grow leaves to protect itself over the winter. 
I haven't even touched on the medicinal or culinary uses of comfrey - I'll save that for another post.
Comfrey well deserves its title 'Queen of Plants' in the permaculture garden.

The happy result of what I thought was a mistake.
A few years ago I planted some irises near the edge of the pond. During the winter rains, the pond water level rose and covered the irises. I thought that was the end of them because they would rot. But no, each spring they grow back out of the pond mud and put on a magnificent show.