Saturday, June 21, 2014

Building a Keyhole Garden

Today I had the fortune to go to a free permaculture class where we built a keyhole garden at a local high school.  Part of joining the crew was bringing a homemade/homegrown potluck item.  Well, unfortunately as nicely as everything is growing in my garden, it's not very productive.  I thought about frying up the two green tomatoes, but that hardly puts a dent into the cast of 50 that might be there.  Any-who, after much debate, and scrapping a few ideas, (like a watermelon fruit salad carving), I decided to use up some canned fruit I had in my pantry.  Without further ado, I present:

Spiced Candied Orange Polenta Cake with Lavender

1 1/2 c. yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 c. ground almond meal
1/2 c. AP flour (I used this Cup4Cup recipe hack by Gluten Free on a Shoestring)
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 t. dried lavender (I pounded mine in a mortar and pestle to grind it up a little)

Mix this together

3 eggs
3/4 c. coconut oil (wanted to use EVOO, but ran out, since I used it up for plantain oil!)
3/4 c. caramelized candied orange slices (I used homemade, but try orange marmalade*)
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. almond milk (or whatever milk you have hanging around)
1/2 t. orange flower water

Mix this together.  Turn on oven to 350 degrees.  Let mix hydrate while oven preheats.  Grease standard loaf bread pan.  Bake for 40 minutes, or until center is set.

*If you use plain orange marmalade, try adding some cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, allspice, nutmeg and ginger to the mix.  Those are the spices in my candied oranges.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Massive Garden Update II

Hi again!  Where did I leave off?  Well after marathon gardening for the last few days, I'm covered in bug bites, scratches and bruises.  I love finding appropriate ways to indulge in my masochistic tendencies, lol.  My latest obsession mission is to weed all the plantains from my front lawn.  You see, way back when the grass started growing in the spring, I realized I really need a lawn mower.  Due to the small size of our shed, my decision was to get a reel mower.  Now I'm sure everyone in the neighborhood who sees me mowing the lawn thinks I'm crazy.  I do weird things, like rake leaves with a rake or mow my lawn with a reel mower.  So at first, my neighbor, with whom I first interacted after almost a year of living here for the first time practically pleaded with me to use her gas mower.  Of course my husband, being the way he is, was completely opposed to the idea.  Lord knows what would happen if the mower suddenly stopped working. For the record, he is appalled that I bought a reel mower and refuses to partake in mowing.  Part of what he likes about living here is that he finally is getting power tools.  I quite agree with him though, about borrowing the gas mower.  I don't have a gas mower because I don't want one.  I bought the tool I felt was adequate for the extra-large postage stamp of a lot we have.  The people across the street have a ride-on. So now every time I talk with the neighbors, I find myself defending the idea of hard work in gardening.  Truth be told, it's the only exercise I get, so it might as well be taxing.

Anyway, the reel mower works great on grass; the only caveat being is that I don't have grass.  Let's say I have a diverse lawn which is comprised of crabgrass, plantain, clover, and fake strawberries.  Click here if you need a refresher course on fake strawberries.  The reel mower has difficulty cutting the flower stalks of the plantain because it's too high to get caught in the rotary blade.  To combat this, I invested in a weedwacker.  Then my neighbor informed her son that I was weedwacking the lawn (which is only partially true, since I had to weedwack first to get rid of the plantain stalks AND THEN mow to get everything to be even.)  Hence my steadfast fortitude to rid the front lawn of this lanky weed outlier.  All the other weeds behave and get mowed to a relatively similar height.

Fast forward a few weeks: I came back from work one night exhausted and practically falling asleep while I was driving home.  After I parked the truck, I sort of noticed that something looked different about my house.  A man two houses down was trying to get my attention as I was parking.  Apparently, I was treated to a free trial of lawn care.  Oh.  The grass is mowed down to the ground.  Subsequent mowing service will cost me $10.  Yet another neighbor who feels sorry for me.  I may take him up on his offer one day, but right now, I feel like the lawn is my personal hell to conquer, so I will continue weeding.  My current regimen is as follows:  8 am:  get dressed covering all body parts with socks to prevent further bug bites.  (Currently, I look like I did when I was 12 and came home from pioneer camp.)  Take the black bin, garden tools and gardening gloves (to prevent any more fire ant bites on my hands, which are really annoying).  Plop down in the grass and start digging out plantains.  Scoot down the hill, taking out plantains in the "row" I'm working on.  The ironic thing about what I'm doing is that plantain helps bug bites.  Which I wouldn't have if I wasn't sitting in the grass and weeding plantains.

So now that I have this huge harvest of medicinal plantain leaves, it's been fun experimenting with home remedies.  I double infused extra-virgin olive oil with whole plants that I washed, wilted and chopped in a water bath for a few hours.  This morning my fire ant bite was itching so bad I wanted to tear my skin apart.  Desperate, I put on some oil and within a few minutes, the itch was barely noticeable.  It definitely is not itch free, but I can function somewhat normally without perseverating on the blister.  The plan is to infuse it with plantain a third time, and then with lemon balm and lavender.  Also might add some tea tree oil and/or vitamin E.  Lastly, some beeswax to turn it into a salve.  Ribwort (Narrowleaf) Plantain
Plantain infused olive oil

This brings me to the unintentional, intentional plantain patch:
Medicinal Plantain Patch

Part of the reason I feel I can tear up all he plantains in the front yard is because the broadleaf plantains have so nicely congregated into a patch all on their own.  You see, I have no issues with weeds per se.  It's the untidiness of unplanned diversity I don't like.  The thistles have also found a way to create what I've christened the "Magical Thistle Forest."  They are about 6 feet tall right now and ready to bloom.  I leave them alone because I wasn't using that area anyway, and I know the butterflies and bees love them.  They have to get cut down after blooming though, because I don't like them that much.  There's also random patches of some clumping grass that I've left alone because they've deposited themselves in the landscape in a way that makes people think i planted them.
Magical Thistle Forest

The wildflower bed is starting to bloom and the mysterious unmarked seeds are starting to reveal themselves, cosmos, poppies, lamb's ear, and various others.  Next year I may reseed if it needs, since they've come up pretty sparsely.  Here's to hoping they reseed prolifically in the bed I made for them.

Wildflower bed

The herb circle is doing well.  Alpine strawberries are blooming, lemon balm is taking over the world, and the rhubarb is looking more and more promising as a permanent resident.  Also featured is oregano, marjoram, dill, thai basil, purple basil, horehound, sage, violets, and two dianthus plants I bought for $1 at Wally World because they don't know how to keep their plants watered and deadheaded.  They should come back in a few weeks.
Herb Circle with Reclaimed Glass Birdbath
Rhubarb from Seed

The fig tree is happy, though I've been finding mealy bugs on some of the plants.  I try to inspect all the plants everyday so I don't miss any potential problems.  They're easy enough to get rid of with rubbing alcohol, though I see I'm going to have to add soap spraying to my regimen.  Going to try a homemade recipe with Fels-Naptha.

Next to the fig are lavender, thyme, rosemary, more oregano and marjoram (I grew a bunch from seed), a hosta I rescued at half price from Aldi's, a lilac bush that needs a home, some parsley and bolted lettuce that I keep for decoration.

Mini garden

Oh, and I forgot, a kefir lime tree seedling for seasoning Thai dishes, and a mini succulent garden.

Next up, the vegetable patch.  More on that tomorrow :D
Veggies are growing!!!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Massive Garden Update!!!!

Father, forgive me, it's been about 2 months since my last post...

So in the last two months, the garden has been doing it's thing.  First off, I discovered that there's a bunch of desirable stuff (to me) already growing here.  There's a tree that suspiciously looks like a fig tree, (which having looked at many houses in the Charlotte area most likely is because most houses come with one, lol!)  I believe it must be a fig, because there aren't really any other trees that have fuzzy fig looking leaves.  This tree was severely pruned, so I believe most of the growth is from this year.  It has no fruit, but should set a breba crop in the fall if all goes well.

There's a wild blackberry bush that needs some TLC, but has lots of blackberries on it, plus tons of volunteers coming up all over the place.  Haven't quite decided where the blackberry bramble should be.  I never understood about berries how you identify old growth, new growth, etc, but think I know now.  It seems that the old canes are brownish, diseased looking and thick, and the new canes are thinner, greener, healthier and have deeper ribs.  Weird.  At first, I didn't think they were coming from the same plant.  Next year I plan on pruning all old diseased looking canes and seeing what comes from the new ones.  This plant has been hacked back in the last year, so not sure what grew when.  The berries are quite small,  but this may have to do with light, soil condition, and pruning incorrectly.  We shall see.

There are vines that look like grapes, though the neighbor was adamant that they have never seen grapes on those vines in 20 years (however, they hack the crap out of it every year so who knows?)  Volunteers that look like it are coming up in various places around the yard.   Keeping an eye out to see what becomes of them.  They should flower eventually.  Don't all vines?  How else will it reproduce?  The jury is out on this one.

Next up are the strawberries.  We were able to harvest some tiny berries each day.  While there wasn't a bumper crop, it's nice to know they're there and I didn't have to do a darn thing.  Next year I'll try compost and see if they do even better.  I also have alpines in the herb circle, though I admit, I like the idea of turning the whole other side of the yard into an alpine berry patch.  Seems they like it there, so I might transplant the lot of them to make more room in the herb circle for next year.  Most likely it will go like this:  get truckload of compost.  Dump in the side yard area thing.  Dig up berries.  Plop them in.  Forget until spring.  I was trying to grow mint there, but I don't think the seeds took.  Keep forgetting to look.  I'm sure eventually one plant will spring up and take over the world.  IMHO, it's not the worst thing that can happen.  Sick of looking at rocky bare tree root soil.  Dominating mint and strawberry patch would be an improvement.  It's possible I can plant the strawberries in the front.  Nasturtiums failed miserably under the oak.  I think I may transplant into herb circle or container garden.

Ok, so now we can get to the stuff I actually planted.  Here is the buttonbush.  It seems happy.

Here's the spice bush.  It too is growing along.

Onto the hazelnuts.  These have been a tad slower.  Possibly from sub par location.
American Hazelnut
This might be American Hazelnut too?

And the chickasaw plums that seem to be doing alright.
Most likely Chickasaw Plum
Chickasaw Plum II

There's three more I forgot to photograph, a possible beautyberry, and two oakleaf hydrangeas.  The mystery plant is doing well.  One hydrangea has been eaten pretty good by insects.  The other in the front has been slow to grow.  Each of these tree/bushes was $2 last February, so I'm thrilled to have such a high rate of success.

I feel sad that I most likely won't see my vision for the backyard to come to fruition, but still, even if we stay for two more years, there will be a marked difference in the landscape.  The plan is to label each plant and put together a packet detailing general maintenance tips for the next tenants.  I hope the property management company doesn't come in and raze everything down when we leave.  It was nice this spring when the landscapers came in to trim the hedges.  They were surprised they didn't have to do so much because I had already trimmed them a few months before them.  I have a lot of plans for the front, but they're on hold till the back is under control.  I spend more time in the back than front, so for me it makes sense to work on that first.  This fall I'm hoping to plant perennials and get the woodland lot situated.  Hostas, ferns, astilbes, heuchera, lily of the valley (damnit, one day they'll grow for me!), bleeding hearts, toad lily, and whatever other shady perennial stuff I can find.  For me, perennial gardens are the ultimate.  There's not so much to do once established except fall clean up, spring fertilize, and divide when they outgrow their spot.  It's important for a rented property to have easy to care for gardens.  Though I dream of a permaculture food forest, I wanted to pay homage to the woodland cottage garden and want include these favorites, even though they don't have much use other than decorative.  Well this post is getting long.  Will post about veg and Walmart sale flowers tomorrow :D

blog template by