Saturday, August 11, 2012

August Heat

While we're in a heatwave, no planting is to be done! So tending as the temperature climbs to 108, and of course, some harvesting!

But first, I need to step back and really look at what we've accomplished in such a short time!

Garden Pathway

It's so hard to believe that this was all dirt when we first came here, the pathway above is the very state of the original soil here.

One of the garden beds. I love a wild, diverse garden!

Corn is getting big!


There's a pond in here somewhere!

Here's the small pond if you can see it, original photos of it being built in my blog from June! It's gone crazy with some magic seeds my friend Patty sent to me! It attracts dragonflies now, and has goldfish and mosquito fish as well!

Small Pond

And below, our grand latest creation, the large pond! Steve and I collected rocks in the canyons around us and built this fortress. Also has goldfish and mosquito fish. I believe next Spring, there will be tadpoles. If you built it, they will come!

Large pond

Large Pond - side view

The cactus garden has grown very large and long, and Steve has started some rock towers, which are attracting baby lizards!
Steve's Cactus Garden. Can you spot Gorn?

And finally, we fenced a little patch for white clover for a few weeks until it grew tall enough to feed Gill the Tortoise. He loves it so much, we've fenced a new section!

More to come!

Monday, July 9, 2012

The 3 Month Mark

End of March to End of June, 2012.

It's been an amazing transformation! From the end of March to the end of June, solving windbreak and shade needs, laying out garden beds and ponds - building soil - watching things grow, I can't believe the results. This morning, there were bees around the little pond. Bees coming to a place that was originally a dust bowl.

Small pond in bloom!

Every day Steve and I go outside and work, and it's very hard to sit back and really see what we've created, as there's so much more to do! Here are a few things in progress. 

I found an old pallet on the property, so we dragged it in and set it into the garden area. I dug a trench around it to keep the water in, as the sides are quite hollow. I'm hoping the pallet will keep the corn stable in the wind.

Corn growing in old pallet.

We've started a cactus garden, working on shade and wind dynamic with a bit of earthworks: building up areas with soil and rocks. This gives the fence further fortification as well...

Cactus Garden.
We are starting a large pond/herb garden. This area is going downhill, so we've got it level and built it up. This is in Gil's territory, so he can walk around it without worry!

Large pond/herb garden.

Much more to come!

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Garden Progresses...

Our wonderful friends Statik and kaRIN from Collide gave us empty pond shells, so the next garden bed I decided on would have a water feature. I dug out a bit of an area, not too deep for the shell as I need to have the ponds above ground a bit, due to Gil the Tortoise not being a swimmer.

Mapping out the Pond Garden bed.
This is the smaller pond shell, which I decided to center within a bed of moisture loving plants, like mint, yarrow and water cress. My last pond was crazy with mint, but we use it a great deal in green juicing, and the rabbits aren't fans...

Pond Garden taking shape.

Once I was able to actually shape out the bed, we stabilized the shell with pebbles I had to clear out from the floor of our outdoor Cat Room. This bed is nice and deep for some planting! Steve went large rock excavating around our property to finish the walls...

Pond Garden planted and seeded!
Steve also found an old water pump spout on our lot, so we added it for fun! Still letting the biology to percolate before adding some fish!

The garden now!
We have a great deal of space left for new beds, but we're really amazed at the progress so far! Photos below as things begin to grow...

Zendra watches out for bunnies!

The first garden bed in foreground with a shade cloth added.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Building A Garden

Original side yard.

Here is the side of the house when we moved in, with Sonny hanging out while I work. It's been calculated that nothing has been cared for on this property for the last 8 years, and I certainly believe it!

The soil is utterly void of organisms, which is okay, really. I am going to be building on top of the dirt to create raised garden beds. Eventually, the dirt will be fed with all the nutrients added on top, the soil creatures - worms, beetles, organisms - will begin to populate the area.

Luckily, we had a ton of boxes from moving, so this was where I began to place them after a good solid rain to keep the moisture in. I began to place them in possible garden areas, with walkways...

Future garden beds.

Cardboard placed over the dirt.
As we have ground squirrels and moles, once I was ready to create a bed, I started with some metal mesh or hardware cloth. The root systems can get their feeders through, but the moles will not be able to burrow up, pull down and gobble!
Running the mesh across the main floor of the bed.

After getting the mesh in place, I covered it with cardboard and soaked it all.  Cardboard is a great way to keep moisture in, shade out the soil, and should you have plants that you'd rather not allow to grow, you can easy chop them down and let them break down under the cardboard. This helps feed the soil as well. The cardboard breaks down over time.

After outlining the bed with bricks and rocks, I fill it with a layer of dirt from the property, then compost. We have an area where former tenants had kept chickens, and the soil there was quite good, so I pulled a bucket of that out and poured that in the bed!

Bed outlined and filled.
Once I finished, I added wind and shade breaks - which can be done with rocks, branches, broken pots. Anything to make little cubbies of safety from the wind and Sun. Then I seeded with an assortment of clover, legumes, wildflowers and herbs. I need to start a large assortment of growth in order to get the garden bed started!

Adding shade and windbreak elements.
Finished bed. One side is taller due to wind.

Other beds created with metal mesh, cardboard, rocks and compost! 

Mulched and seeded garden beds.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Planting among the Invasives...

In my earlier post, I mentioned that our back lot is filled with a "Bastard Cabbage" and we threw seedballs in there. Here are some photos... but first, the soil differences between bare dirt and the areas where the invasives are growing.

Species like this are usually annuals, (they grow, drop seed and die, and the following year it happens again but usually in larger numbers), and they are happiest in eroded, abused soils. They are the frontrunners to getting things growing where nothing grows, and when left to Nature, they will usually die off as other species begin to take to the soil they have fed. This is important stuff to know, using weed killers is the worst thing one can do. Invasives don't last forever, Nature knows how to handle them. What I'm doing is using Her plan to move the succession forward a bit more quickly.

Seed path in Bastard Cabbage.
Seedball seedlings.
I hacked a number areas between the plants in order to begin seeding all sorts of new flowers, see left. The soil is soft and easy to dig. We threw seedballs into these rows, to the right is a sprouting seedball.

I also seeded some vegetables and legumes. Hiding them within the Bastard Cabbage might 1) keep them safe from rabbits and moles that run all over our property, and 2) the shade of the tall plants may be able to let them grow under the hot Sun that is beginning to truly show itself in our desert climate.

Seeds planted and the area tagged.

Vegetable seeds planted within the tall plants.

I'm very fascinated as to what will happen! There is a rule of Redundancy in Permaculture. Plant much more than you need as it's better to have too much food and you can share. So far I've planted about 6 zucchinis, and if even one or two make it, that will be wonderful! Below are some new seedlings sprouting among the invasives.

Fingers crossed!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Making Seedballs

I'm making seedballs to throw into the main central part of our property. Right now, it's nearly a monocrop of "Bastard Cabbage" as well as "Stork's Bill", a purple flower ground cover. I've collected red and yellow clovers, buckwheat, millet, sunflower, legumes, chia and an assortment of wildflowers. Bees and birds will love these, as well as Gil, our tortoise!
Mixing the seeds.
As our dirt is high clay, I dug up a large bucket full, and mixed in organic compost. Then I added enough water to moisten it through and mixed in the seeds.
Adding the seeds and mixing them into the soil mix.
It's a bit like making cookie dough! 
Each ball is made by scooping the mix and shaping it into a round ball. 
It's important to let them dry. They need to dry quickly, so that the seeds don't start to germinate within the ball. I placed them immediately into cardboard trays in the Sun.
All photos by Steve Niles.
Once dry, Steve threw them into the center of the monocrop. I spent some time in there hacking out dips between the rows, so the balls could land easily.
Finished Seedballs.

A bit too much compost was mixed in, the balls were crackly, but Steve had a blast throwing them! Usually, the point of seedballs is to throw them, let them land and wait for rain. I cheated and watered the last couple of days, but I know I didn't hit them all. Rain is coming in a few days, fingers crossed!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Land Ho! At last!

Rabbit Hole
Steve and I recently moved out to the desert, and now we have an acre of land to play with. It's a rental - we'll see what the future holds - but it's been a dream to have little ranch like this! The area is peaceful - people wave as you walk or drive by. The sounds of roosters can be heard in the morning, birds I have yet to recognize make lovely sounds in the trees.

Having been away from any practical Permaculture work for almost 2 years, it's extremely exhilarating to have such a blank slate. The desert soil here is really just dirt. The land around our home has not been cared for in years, and I make new discoveries every day. We have many unpruned, thus scraggly, Elms that outline the property. There is an abundance of wildlife: rabbits, ground squirrels and moles are all over our place. To the left is a rabbit hole. At night, coyotes might jump the fence.

The back property, with Sonny and Zendra. Photo taken by Steve.

We discovered we have a long untended orchard. At least three peach trees, three grape vines, a possible fuji apple, and a couple I am not yet sure of...

One of the peaches has a large Elm taking over, so I need to address this... Evidence of old bubbler systems are in sight, but there are also broken plastic water pipes throughout. I'll need to get these systems back in order eventually. For now, I have hacked out a bit of a ditch around each one to better catch water, and I definitely need to feed them.

Bastard Cabbage
There are some wild flowers here and there, but overall what we see are mustard/dandelion varieties growing everywhere. Yesterday, I was able to identify the main plant that is growing all over the property, especially in the large dip in the center of our land, as Bastard Cabbage. This plant grows in eroded and disturbed soils, and it has one very large and deeply penetrating taproot (see below right). This is very helpful in areas of dead, dry dirt - the taproot can help break up the soil for the next plant species to come. Bastard Cabbage, though, is very opportunistic, and seen as quite the menace in some areas.

Bastard Cabbage Tap Root
Zendra hangs with Gil
Of course, the common gardening solution is to kill them all off. But right now, their flowers are attracting bees, and I see their thick cabbage leaves as a fantastic source of organic material. It is very clear that the rabbits and other wildlife do not care for this plant, but a big plus is Gil, our desert tortoise, loves it. So he is able to chomp away at that as well as early switch grass that is starting to sprout. 

So my possibilities are: dig some shallow swales in between them to sow Summer wildflowers, and get started for succession and bring in diversity, most likely in the form of seedballs. And something else I would like to try: plant a few veggies in between - and see if we can use these plants as cover from the bunnies. It's all so fascinating what can happen.

Next: beginning the garden area.