Hugelkultur Gardening

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Hugelkultur gardens.  Heck, that is just fun to say!  This German word means “hill culture”.  It is an easy form of raised beds.  Some beds can be seven feet tall!

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Logs and branches are your foundation. We have branches piled up behind the chicken coop.  Doug was going to use them for firewood, but I claimed them for my gardening project!  One could dig a trench or place rocks or other materials around the bed to hold it into place.  The logs are laid out, filled in with branches, straw, leaves, then topped with gardening soil.  The bigger logs take many years to break down and hold on to water.  So a seven foot tall bed would never have to be watered, even in the desert!  Now, mine will be just a foot or so tall once it settles and shrinks.  The microorganisms in the wood benefit and improve the soil.  It’s all pretty ingenious.  By the time the wood completely breaks down, the soil beneath should be pretty cleaned up.

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I’ll have enough materials to make one bed like this.  We’ll do many beds of different styles so that we can compare them at the end of the season.

Farmgirl Gardening Series Week 12

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Every year’s garden is different. As soon as you think you have it figured out, the next year throws you for a loop.  This is why becoming a professional farmer can cause severe anxiety issues.  There is no control.  Over anything!  Here in our three community garden plots we are simply trying to feed ourselves for the summer.  And we are eating delicious food.  This year we may not see pumpkins (which is crazy to me, my farm was called Pumpkin Hollow Farm, for crying out loud!) but we will see for the first time ever sweet potatoes.  We have had lots of rain for Colorado and it shows.  So for starting with a plot that had sand and ant hills, with little amending to the soil, and two tons of hail thrown in, I’d say we’re looking pretty good this year.

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In season now are peas.  Glorious purple snow peas and crunchy snap peas.  A few thick pods of English peas are ready but I do believe that I am missing several vines of English peas.  The rabbit seems to know nothing of it.

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The collard greens are prolific and delicious young.  Crisp them in the oven with the snow and snap peas, some garlic, salt, and a good drizzle of olive oil for a farm to table side.  The tomatoes are setting on their vines as well.  Yesterday I did have a hankering for fried green tomatoes but they aren’t quite that big yet!

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The cabbages are growing their heads.  Now, there is a fine line in the high plains of Colorado, one week you could have happily growing cabbage and the next little black bugs will be sent by Mother Nature to take them out since they aren’t ready yet.  The clean up crew.  So, sometimes you can just harvest as is, without the finished head.  Chiffonade the leaves and stir fry.  With the snow and snap peas, of course!

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Some of the potatoes have flowered and some are yet to flower.  Potato flowers are amazingly beautiful.  They always surprise me in their lovely understated elegance.  I let the mustard, radish, and arugula plants go to seed.  I enjoy their flowers and they may reseed themselves, which is always a nice treat.

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The herbs have been prolific.  Waving California poppies, knee high cilantro in bloom, morning glories grasping for the trellis, volunteer borage with its star-like blooms.  Chamomile and its glorious scent, the first head of Calendula, roses.

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Lots of fresh lettuces, baby carrots, greens, young onions, and herbs await.  I am better after an hour in the garden.  My medicine.  Watching the water crystals from the sprayer bounce off the leaves of the great sunflowers, watching birds flit by, a lady bug lands on a nearby leaf.  I am in my element in a garden, wherever it may be.

Farmgirl Gardening Series (Knee High by 4th of July)

“Here we go corn, here we go!” clap clap “Here we go corn, here we go!” stomp stomp.  My cheerleading days come in handy around here.  The corn is indeed up to my knee.  The sweet corn will likely make it before the season ends!  Some of the popcorn is up to Maryjane’s knee and I don’t think that counts, but we will keep cheering and watering and see what happens.

I did not ever thin the carrots.  I meant to, I really did.  I reached down and pulled one of the thousands of seedlings and out came a tiny little carrot.  I dusted the dirt off and ate the sweet the little thing and decided I rather like baby carrots and wandered off to the next task.  In season this week is the end of the mustard, kale, lettuce, arugula, collards, and herbs.

Just like when kids go from being little ones and one year in junior high shoot up taller than dad, the plants will do the same.  They are ten year olds right now, just cute and new but in the next four weeks we will see them jump up and start coming into their own.

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The gardens look beautiful.  Each person’s plot their own, filled with their favorites, the bunny rather enjoying the buffet.  Shh, I told him I wouldn’t tell on him!

Next week, compost tea and fall crops (already!), see you ’round the garden!

Friday Farmgirl Gardening Series Week 10 (erosion, hail, hoppers, and hope)

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And this, my dear friends, is one reason we do not rototill!  With the crazy summer storms we have been getting an inch of sandy thick topsoil from the neighboring gardens slid onto my plants and pathways.

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My novel takes place in the 1930’s and through my grandparents’ stories and books I am learning about the dust bowl.  Something we were never taught in school and something that could so easily happen again as we deliberately and repeatedly deplete our soils of nutrients instead of building on top of the soil.  Soil does not like to be barren!

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“Oh hail” is my new cuss word.  Grasshoppers are my nemesis.

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Yet, each day the soil and my plants call to me.  I find my respite and peace with fingernails caked with dirt, birds flitting by, and despite everything, the harvest.  Plants want to grow.  Spinach, baby kale, baby collards, arugula, lettuce, and nearing the end of radish days fills my basket.

I thin a few carrots and beets each day.  It is the most loathsome job in the garden I know.  I think that I will just put two fingers down for two inches, pick everything in between, but goodness, those seedlings are everywhere.  Which direction do I go?  Two inches this way?  Then I take out that nice tall one…It is rather stressful but it must be done, for carrots one or two inches in girth feed folks a lot better than two millimeters in girth.  The kids need room to grow.

Next year, I think, you shall find me at the end of the winter months at a table with a glass of wine and opera blaring carefully dotting each seed with glue and placing them strategically two inches apart on long strips of toilet paper.  Though that sounds dreadful to my “do six things at a time” mind, listening to Andrea Bocelli and dotting seeds with glue sounds a lot more fun than the mass killings I am attempting to complete in my garden.

This week I will be laying more mulch and making everything tidy.  We’ll see what there is to harvest.  We’ll start planning our fall crops.  We’ll listen to birds, get a sun tan, and plan up new recipes inspired by the garden.

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My balcony garden is doing amazing, may I add.  Just goes to show that the best gardens have a roof!

Farmgirl Gardening Series (First Week of June Checklist)

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One thing to remember while gardening in the high plains is that one needs to add a full 2-4 weeks onto the supposed harvest date on the seed packets.  I have never had a radish ready in 21 days.  I’ll tell you that much.  So, when planting seeds make sure you add an extra few weeks to the math.

#1 Acknowledge disappointments.  I started crying, I’ll admit it, when I saw that the plots next to mine had been rototilled.  I cried because six inches of their dirt was now flipped upside down on my rows next to theirs.  6 inches of upside down topsoil.  Once the seeds that I had planted came up they were all bunched together in a softball sized circle.  Once I thin them I will have 4 plants from an entire envelope of seeds.

These things happen.  The term “One for God, one for nature, and one for the gardener” is very, very true.  You can count on one third of your seeds coming up and surviving.  The good news is we can always replant!  There are many life lessons in the garden.

Not a single soybean has risen from the soil surface.  I will assume they will come up next week.  If not, I’ll plant something else.

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#2 Note where there are empty spaces.  Only half of my zucchini seeds germinated.  I didn’t use as much space as I thought I would for tomatoes.  There is a strip of empty soil along the south side of the garden that I didn’t plant.  I can save them for the second round of cold crops (we’ll plant those in July) or plant annuals, another type of seed that looks intriguing, or more of what we love to eat best.  No space unused!

#3 Check your mulch.  Right now it is to be a light covering, thicker on the paths.  The mulch over the plants is not for weed suppression right now, or the plants won’t come up!  It is just lightly covering the soil so it doesn’t dry out or erode or blow away.  We’ll mulch thicker as the plants get up and stronger.

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#4 Water each day if is no rain.  I will never forget my lessons with my friend, Deb, years ago in which she would have me water then ask me if it was watered.  I would say yes, she would have me check the soil and it was dry!  Three times I watered and directly beneath the surface was completely dry!  So I check the soil with my finger.  Wet up to the second knuckle and it is watered.

#5 I weed on my hands and knees this early in the season.  It helps me not accidentally hoe a vegetable seedling.  It helps me see what is coming up and what is not.  I can be more intimate with my garden this early in the season to get a better idea of what is going on.  I do wish the red ants would move out of the north garden!

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#6 Take a few minutes in your garden each day.  Even if just to enjoy a few sips of water and watch the birds.  Talk to the plants.  Encourage them.  Sing, hum, sit in the sun.

Farmgirl Gardening Series Week 6 (Tomatoes, Peppers, and Eggplants)

Well, it’s Memorial Weekend.  If you are following along, this is what your garden might look like:

  1. Potatoes, onions, garlic are shoving through the straw.
  2. Kale, chard, collards, mustards, lettuces, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, carrots, pak choi, and spinach are about an inch tall. Don’t try to thin them, let them be!
  3. Peas are 2 inches high.
  4. Sunflowers and pumpkins are all beginning to pop out of the soil.
  5. Morning glories have sprouted.  Looks like we might lose one or two herb plants, but the rest look like they are hanging on despite our cool nights.
  6. The other seeds are still under the warm soil working.

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Now, we put in the summer plants.  If we started these from seeds right now they would never make it.  Best to find a good source (I like Kevin at the Parker Farmer’s Market right as you walk in.) and let them get the nightshades up and going.

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In the book, Wisdom of a Radish, by Lynda Hopkins all of her tomato starts die (as they do often) and she had to go buy plants to put in the ground.  She mutters to herself, “Only f#@k up farmers have to buy starts!”

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Now every year when Doug  and I buy our starts we chant that.  We don’t mind.  Sometimes a farmer has to rely on other farmers to ensure success.  No shame.

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Dig the holes 1 1/2 feet apart for peppers and eggplants, 2 feet for tomatoes.  Then walk back down rows and pop in starts complete with labels.  Then walk down aisle with a bag of organic garden soil and fill the holes, patting around the plants so they stand up nice.  Water well then add straw around the bases to keep them upright and allow less moisture to escape.  Put snazzy looking tomato cage over.  Or not.  I am still saving up for the other 28.  I planted 20 tomatoes, 12 various peppers, and 4 eggplants.  That may seem like a lot but we want tomatoes as deep into winter as we can get!

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I have gone without and had a brilliant crop, they just run all over the ground and tempt animals and black spots.  Anything could work that has a little strength.  We have a week to think about it.  In the meantime, enjoy your garden and your Memorial weekend!

See you next week!

Farmgirl Gardening Series Week 5 (Jalagi Adusgi, plant markers, and weeds)

 

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Cherokee Garden

Welcome to our Cherokee garden.  Maryjane loves to garden.  She likes to play in the back of my truck, then come over and plant some seeds, then water, then relax in the sun.  “This is too fun, Grammie!” she squeals.

This last week the nights (and frankly some of the days) were too cold for summer plants.  This week I will plant tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

This week we made signs denoting where everything is.  Selu-corn, Iya-Pumpkins, Nunv-potatoes, Sahlol– lobelia, Jisdu unigisdi– what the rabbit eats, or rose hips.  I even labeled the “weeds”.  Plant markers are notoriously impossible.  They shed their lettering by mid-season.  This time we “laminated” them with packing tape.

 

My garden is already beginning to flourish.  All the cold crop seeds have germinated.  Potatoes, onions, and garlic are just peeking over the soil, there are more to come up.  Mustard, kale, chard, lettuce, peas, radishes, cauliflower, beets, cabbage, carrots, pak choi, spinach, broccoli, herb seedlings, all raising up in song to Nudah (the sun) and to another beautiful day in the garden.

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Maryjane in the sun

A note on weeds:  Heavens, weeds will be there from the beginning to the end.  No use trying to eradicate them.  Mother Nature is a smidge savvier than you and I.  I go through the garden nearly every day and pick wayward, tiny weeds coming up.  That is the best we can do.  No worries.  The plants will still grow.  Plants want to grow!

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The Little Farmgirl

I hope your seedlings are up, your weeds are down, and you are watering each day if it doesn’t rain!

See you next week in our Jalagi Adusgi!

Friday Farmgirl Gardening Series Week 4 (summer seeds and the four sisters)

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Four sisters?  All these years I have talked to you about beneficial and interplanting   The three sisters is my favorite way to bring it to life.  Many Native tribes planted corn with beans and squash.  The pumpkin (iya) leaves suppress weeds and deter nighttime corn marauders, beans (duya) grow quickly and happily up the stalks of the corn, and corn (selu) is an absolute staple, corn meal, boiled corn, and don’t forget popcorn!  (That colorful corn one buys every year for decoration at Halloween if not treated is actually popcorn…)

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The Cherokee have another plant that joins the group.  The sacred plant, agaliha, or sunflower.  The sunflower follows the sun, her head tilted towards it, just as the farmer.  It’s leaves when young are delicious in salads, the seeds are a great source of protein, and the flowers encourage beneficial insects.  The north and east edges would be planted with the three sisters and the fourth sister, sunflower, which is just what I did.

I planted four different types of pumpkin, because after all, I am still Pumpkin Hollow Farm even in a community garden, showy white Lumina, mini, small blue, and princess pumpkins will bring whimsy to the garden and sustenance to the root cellar…or apartment corner, whatever.  I planted early sweet corn, a 90 day sweet corn, and Calico, an heirloom Indian corn which will make cornmeal and popcorn for my kitchen.  Yellow Indian woman, Bolito, Cannellini, and Bird’s Egg beans, all heirloom, all grew in a garden of a pioneer woman or a Cherokee woman.  I hold the brave spirits of both.  And they will grow in my garden too.

The easiest way to plant long rows quickly is to lay the seeds out in a somewhat straight line then follow up with a covering of organic garden soil.  Bean, 3 inches, corn, three inches, bean, 12 inches, pumpkin, 6 inches, bean….

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I also planted okra, green beans, white string beans, zucchini, butternut squash, and soybeans.  It is not time to plant tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant yet.  I did place tomato cages where they would go for staging purposes.  The nights are too cold yet.  But, summer seeds are most welcome and will love the rain/sun mix we have right now.

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The peas are just beginning to show their sleepy heads, unfurling just so.  The mustard and radishes are filled with wonder, and other seeds are just germinating and showing their tiny heads above the soil to look about.

I hope you are joining me in the garden this year.  There is just nothing more therapeutic.

Walking the Labyrinth

lab·y·rinth
ˈlab(ə)ˌrinTH/
noun
noun: labyrinth; plural noun: labyrinths
  1. 1.
    a complicated irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult to find one’s way; a maze.
    a labyrinth of passages and secret chambers”
    synonyms: maze, warren, network, complex, web, entanglement

    “a labyrinth of little streets”
    2.
    Anatomy
    a complex structure in the inner ear that contains the organs of hearing and balance. It consists of bony cavities (the bony labyrinth ) filled with fluid and lined with sensitive membranes (the membranous labyrinth ).
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    I like these descriptions of a labyrinth; a difficult passage and a means of hearing and balance.
    This lovely labyrinth is on the corner of 136 and Pine Ridge in Elizabeth next to the community gardens.  (Take Elizabeth street to the end where it makes you turn left, it is one block down on your left.)  There are no dead ends, it is not a maze, per se, but a lovely curving, rounding, focused trek to the center which is placed strategically upon an energy vortex (which is scientific and geological).

If one stands at the entrance with a question (for all answers are within us already) or intention, one will find as they make your way quietly, contemplatively, through the winding paths that the answer or clarity will be startlingly clear in the center.  Peacefulness surrounds and the day is started much nicer or ended even nicer still by walking the labyrinth.

Wishing you a peaceful day!

A Summer Herb Walk (and soothing liniment recipe)

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Now is a great time to take a summer herb walk.  Your first aid herbs await.  The skies have been so bright blue and warm and the evenings chilled with rain that the plants are overflowing with medicine and vigor.

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Our first stop is at the mullein plants.  This is one of our favorite herbs.  Every few days Doug and I head out to gather the yellow flowers from the top of the stalk which easily pop out in your fingers.  These are put in a paper lunch bag with a few holes punched in it that is clearly marked Mullein.  Herbs do tend to look alike once dried!

We use the mullein flowers for a couple of different things.  They are excellent for lungs.  They are anti-viral as well as soothing to the bronchial tract and the lining of the lungs.  They are invaluable in asthma remedies and in cold medicine.

They are also a mild pain reliever, especially excellent for animals and children.

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The leaves are very soft and when put in an extract or tea form it becomes gelatinous.  This effect is called demulcent and acts like a blanket, if you will.  Once consumed it helps cover nerve endings that are misfiring for pain (so a great supporting actor in pain medicines), used to settle the stomach and help with ulcers since it creates a covering over the lining of the stomach.  Similarly, it also creates a soothing lining on the lungs when a hacking cough arises.

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The humble Christmas pine tree holds in its boughs a myriad of medicines.  It is a strong pain reliever for strains, sprains, and breaks used topically and also speeds healing.

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Yarrow=Blood.  Should one fall whilst running through the woods on a fine summer day and obtains a wound will find yarrow to be most helpful.  Simply crush the flowers in the hand and apply to the wound to stop bleeding.

Yarrow stops bleeding externally whereas it keeps blood from clotting internally making it a fine heart medicine and ally in varicose vein and other blood related extracts including blood cleansing remedies.

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Yucca abounds and is a much desired component in any pain relieving remedy for internal or external use.  Yucca root is a wonderful anti-inflammatory.

The leaves and roots can be boiled to release the saponin which is essentially soap.  Taken internally as a tea or when used in extracts the saponin cleanses the organs and acts as a tonic while decreasing inflammation and pain from arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.

A Summer  Herb Liniment (for strains, sprains, and other aches and pains externally)

Combine in a one quart canning jar a piece of pine 4-6 inches long, 3-4 inches wide.  Just shove it in there.

Add a 3 inch long chunk of yucca root

Add 2 Tablespoons of mullein flowers and two smaller mullein leaves.

Add one head of yarrow

And one cup of mint.

These herbs can be dried or fresh.

Fill jar leaving one inch head space with vodka.  Replace lid and mark jar with ingredients and date.  Place in sunny window.  Liniment will be ready in 2 weeks.  Should you come across comfrey you can add that too and the liniment will help heal breaks in record time!  I do not strain the liniment.  The stronger the better.  The shelf life is forever thanks for the vodka!  Apply with a cotton ball or flat strips of an old cotton t-shirt.  This remedy can be used for animals as well as children and adults.