October in the Garden

Our yard has been looking quite festive!

I’ve been feeling a bit like a squirrel or a mouse lately, the way I’ve been hoarding things for fall and winter. Namely, newspapers, cardboard, leaves, grass clippings, etc., etc. for mulching and expanding the veggie plot — not to mention for creating compost as well!

I’m determined to have a mostly weed-free garden next year by using the wood chip method popularized by the sustainable gardening film “Back to Eden.” I’m not a religious person by any means, but I was able to overlook most of the religious aspects of the documentary in favor of gaining a lot of useful information about more sustainable, organic gardening practices. I borrowed a copy of the film from our library, but I believe it’s also available to watch on YouTube, if you’re interested in checking it out.

I’ve also found inspiration from the One Yard Revolution YouTube channel (Patrick offers loads of great frugal gardening advice, and his cat Oscar is adorable!) and the book Edible Landscaping, which shows you how to transform your available growing space with a permaculture approach.

So, over the last few weeks, I’ve been slowly putting into practice what I’ve learned as I prep the veggie plot for winter — first applying a layer of cardboard, then grass clippings, then autumn leaves, then a layer of newspaper, and finally the wood chips. Building soil is hard work! I’ve only managed one large section so far, but I’m aiming to have the whole veggie plot mulched by early November.

It’s a bit of a mess at the moment, but I’m getting there. All that paper sticking out will soon be covered up.

As you can see, there’s not much left in the garden other than the tomatoes, a few pumpkins, the cosmos, gladiolus, and the dahlias. I have a small bank off to the right where some beets are growing as a bit of an experiment, so we’ll see what happens there! On our porch, I have a container with radishes and spinach growing, and in another planter I have kale that is doing really well.

The dahlias, naturally, are still going strong. They much prefer the 70-degree weather we’ve been having lately to the summer’s 90-degree days. My first-year cafe au lait dahlia finally has buds on it, and I’m crossing my fingers I’ll get a few blooms before the frost. Next year the tubers should be bigger and put out much more growth.

One out of 20-something dahlia plants currently growing in the garden

In other garden-related news, Jordan and I built a compost corral (inspired by a Geobin expandable compost bin) last weekend with some leftover hog-wire fencing I found tucked behind our shed. Hardware cloth probably would have been a better choice, but this is what we had on hand, and it cost us nothing to make. Leaves, grass clippings, pinecones, garden waste, etc. will all go into it this fall and will hopefully heat up nicely and decompose over the winter, providing us with some great compost for our raised beds come early summer.

I also recently ordered some persimmon and quince trees that I’ll be planting out in a few days. There are three quince (Angers, Provence, and Le Page) and three persimmon trees (one Japanese Fuyu and two American). They’re all little fellas right now, but I’m hoping in a few years we’ll get a handful of fruit!

Two little American persimmon trees

And last but not least, I picked up some conkers from a horse chestnut tree outside of Cle Elum last weekend. My mom said she grew some trees for my grandpa from conkers years ago, and I love a challenge (also free plants), so I’m going to give it a go. Though they sure do look pretty just sitting in a bowl or a vase as decor, don’t you think?

My fall to-do-in-the-garden list seems to have dwindled now to just a few tasks, and I’ve been finding myself restless in the evenings, not sure what to do with all my newfound time. What sorts of activities do you enjoy when the growing season comes to a close? I expect I’ll be doing quite a lot of baking and knitting…

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“Spare Time”

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I’m becoming acutely aware of how much quicker nightfall is arriving with each passing day. I practically leap from my car when I get home from work, thrusting myself into any sort of outdoor activity that needs doing before night settles in like a blanket. Fall in the Pacific Northwest is a slog of unrelenting rain that chills you to the bone for weeks on end, and I’m determined to not get caught in it with unfinished projects.

Fortunately, the rain hasn’t begun yet. We’ve had a few small showers here and there since I last wrote, but last week was mostly clear, sunny days, and this week has continued the trend. The air is a little crisper, and the trees surrounding our house are teasing us with hints of red and yellow.

In whatever “spare time” I find myself possessing before nightfall, I’m either pulling invasive English ivy from our yard or moving wood chips. The ivy removal has been quite the process, as it’s grown over itself in layers of four or five deep, and some of the vines are as thick as rope. Some days it honestly feels hopeless, and I wonder if I’m a bit mad for thinking I can succeed at such a monstrous endeavor. But then my husband drives by on the lawnmower and tells me how amazing it’s looking, and that’s enough to convince me to keep at it. (I sincerely wish I could give a stern talking-to to whoever thought it was a good idea to plant this ivy, because it’s quickly become the bane of my existence.)

Nevertheless, the removal is coming along well, if a bit slower than I’d like. I had visions of planting swathes of daffodils between the trees for spring, but that will have to wait until next fall, unfortunately — but that’s just one more thing to look forward to down the road. A reward, of sorts, for all my hard work.

I’ve also been getting perennials in the ground that have been sitting in pots on our deck for a while — tansy, some irises, sedum, a blueberry bush, a peony, a Koko Loko rose — in hopes of getting them comfortably settled into their new homes before winter arrives. It’s also about time to bring the poinsettia inside and see if I can coax her into blooming in a few months’ time. (She was given to us by our realtor last winter, and I’m awfully proud I’ve managed to keep her alive the whole year!)

There is not much left to do in the combination veggie/flower garden other than pick bouquets of dahlias or cosmos every few days and deadhead as needed. Things are starting to die back (except for the dahlias, they continue to soldier on), and I’m fighting the urge to rip everything up. The cabbages and peppers are still growing, though, so I’ll resist for the time being. Once I succumb, I’ll cover the whole bed in layers of cardboard, leaves, grass clippings, and wood chips — and hopefully that will suppress the weeds until spring.

In the evenings lately, after dinner has been put away and all my jobs outside have been completed, I’ve been focusing on knitting and painting in an effort to cut back on screen time and return to some of my neglected hobbies. It’s been such a welcome change of pace, and I’m looking forward to much more of it with winter’s inevitable arrival.

So long, summer — you were so very good to us.

September in the Garden

Boy, do the months sure keep chugging along. It feels like August was just yesterday, doesn’t it? But here we are, halfway through September already.

September quickly turned into the month of to-do lists: the gutters need cleaning, the garden needs tidying, the spring bulbs need ordering and sowing, and there’s lots of mulching in my forecast.

The reward at the end of all the “doing” is ample hermitage and returning to some of my indoor hobbies that were neglected during the growing season — bread baking, knitting, and writing, to name a few. And, of course, garden planning.

If we’re being truthful, I’ve already mentally begun the garden planning. (How else will I know where to sow my irises, tulips, and daffodils for spring? Not to mention garlic for next summer!). I have a veggie plot expansion in mind, as well as thoughts of a pollinator garden.

We had rain every day this last week week, and the forecast predicts some of it will continue into this week as well. So far it’s been a nice change. (My husband would disagree — his school district just came to an agreement after 3 weeks of striking, so he’s tired of being in the rain.)

A few nights ago I rushed out to the garden just as fat drops began to fall from the sky — I’d let my pickling cukes get monstrous while we were out of town, and I wanted to harvest them before they got even more out of control. Wandering the garden in the rain was a welcome change, and it felt so good to wear boots again. I was having mixed feelings about summer nearing her end, but I can say with absolute certainly now that I’m ready for fall. Bring on the changing colors (and leaf mold)!

Last month I thought the bush beans were slowing down, but it’s looking like I have a bumper crop on my hands despite the sudden change in weather! I can hardly keep up with them. My Kentucky Wonder pole beans are also starting to put out some magnificent beans of length. I think next year I will only grow runner beans, as they’re much easier to pick and so far have been tidier plants than the bush beans — the plants are toppling all over at this point, and I’m not really into it.

The “wedding pumpkins” are doing well — I have a small assortment of them growing and am happy we’ll have a few to display on our porch this fall. Next year I plan on growing the typical orange carving pumpkins and some Long Island cheese pumpkins. Possibly also some blue Hubbard squash.

The kale is thriving in the cooler weather, but everything else seems to be slowing down — cukes, tomatoes, etc. I started a late batch of Swiss chard a while back, but it doesn’t seem to be doing so well. There’s always next year, I suppose.

The cooler weather has also given my dahlias the encouragement to profusely bloom. I picked my mom a bouquet before we left town for my sister’s wedding, and she was pleased as punch when she saw them! And in even more dahlia news, my first dahlia from my late-season Swan Island purchase has finally bloomed! It’s called “Sonic Bloom” and is so delicate and dreamy. I’m totally smitten with it and looking forward to seeing my others from Swan Island bloom this fall.

That’s the nice thing about dahlias and living in the Pacific Northwest — when everything else in the garden is slowing down, the dahlias continue to put out a beautiful display long into October. And on those dreary autumnal days as we inch closer and closer to winter, at least we’ll have flowers to bring us a little sunshine. I’m already smiling just thinking about it.

Marge’s First Chip Drop

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Do you know about Chip Drop?

My master composter and recycler co-worker told me about it months ago, and it’s essentially a waitlist system for receiving wood chips from your local arborists. The chips need to go somewhere after trees are felled, trimmed, or pruned, and why not keep them out of landfills by giving them to people who will use them?

And the best part: It’s free, and “free” is my middle name! (Ok, not really. It’s Frances, but close enough.)

Once you make an account on Chip Drop’s website, you can request which kind of delivery you’d like: only wood chips, only logs, mostly wood chips with a few logs, or wood chips with a lot of logs. You can also specify any kind of chips you do not want. (Many people, myself included, don’t want black walnut chips, as the wood contains a toxic compound called juglone that can suppress the growth of plants.)

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I’d been on the waitlist for a chip delivery for what felt like forever — until Monday. I’d taken the day off to recuperate after my sister’s wedding last weekend, so I was at home on the couch when I heard a large truck backing up. I looked out the window, and there it was: a beautiful pile of chips, smack-dab in the middle of our driveway, all for me!

I requested wood chips with a few logs, since I’d heard that you’re more likely to get a delivery that way. We only ended up with one medium-sized log, which was just fine with me — it’ll make a nice spot to sit and rest when I’m working in the garden.

When you request wood chips, what you’re really getting is a mixture of chips, bark, leaves, branches, twigs, and evergreen needles. From this small handful, I can see that I likely received a mixture of maple and evergreen trees. Look at that beautiful wealth of organic matter just teeming with possibilities!

These chips will be used as mulch — around our raised beds, under trees, to make pathways in the veggie plot, to suppress regrowth of English ivy, in sheet mulch to make new garden beds, etc. They can even be added to compost. The possibilities are endless!

If you haven’t used Chip Drop before, I can’t encourage you enough to check it out. Not only is it free, but your garden will love it!

A Day With the Dahlias

By now I’m sure many of you have caught wind of my *slight* dahlia obsession — I don’t know what it is about these flowers, but they bring an instant smile to my face and make me so happy just looking at them.

So, naturally, I insisted we attend the Swan Island Dahlia Festival two weekends ago. I’d been counting down the days for months and making a mental list of all the tubers I was interested in ordering, since they offered a 10% off discount if you ordered during the event.

Unlike the tulip festival we attended in the spring, the dahlia festival was free — both parking and admission — which is always a plus in my frugal heart. There were display gardens set up which guided you through a stunning array of blooms as far as the eye could see. Each flower was tagged with its name, and many people stopped to take pictures so they’d know which ones they wanted to order. (I did not do this, as I already had in mind the ones I wanted and didn’t want to be tempted to buy more.)

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There was also a large indoor display to peruse, but it was packed with people and not quite as enjoyable as strolling through fields of flowers in the sunshine. It did offer the opportunity to get up close and personal with nearly every variety, though, which was really nice. And the displays were all unique — my favorite was the one in the picture above, featuring the cute stuffed pig!

One of the things I liked best about the festival was seeing all these flowers in person, because the photographs in the catalog don’t always do justice. There were some that stopped me in my tracks, and when I looked at the tag was shocked to see they were ones I hadn’t really cared for in the catalog. The colors just seemed so much more vibrant in person.

At 1pm there was a two-hour seminar on dahlia arranging, care, and culture, which Jordan sat through with me because he’s a great husband. I skipped the dividing demo afterward because he’d been so patient with me from the get-go, and it was getting late in the afternoon. I put in my order, qualified for a free desk calendar, and back home we went.

I ended up ordering more than I anticipated, but I don’t feel too awfully guilty because I know how excited I’ll be when that box arrives on our doorstep in the spring. I’ll be adding more peach and purple dahlias to the garden next year — purple is Jordan’s favorite color, and I’m a sucker for anything light pink or apricot colored. My order for 2019 consisted of:

If you’re in Oregon or the Southwest Washington area, I highly encourage you to check out the festival next year — there’s not much better than an afternoon outside with stunning flowers!

Days of Wonder & Delight

It seems there is always something to marvel at these days. My regular walks along our fence line calm my anxiety and provide delightful discoveries of plants and trees I wasn’t aware were there. Just when I think our flat, empty field has shown me all it has to offer, I discover a pear tree growing along the fence.

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Yes, a pear tree — and an old one at that, and covered in some sort of rust or blight, but it’s got to be at least 20 feet tall. Nothing grew on it last year, and when I saw fruit forming on it this last spring, I assumed (wrongly) it was just another apple tree. When I checked on the tree again a few weeks ago, it was clear the fruit was not apples. And oh how glad I am to be wrong. I adore pears. Now we have two pear trees — this newly discovered mature one and the semi-dwarf bosc I planted in the spring. Perfect.

Another recent and equally delightful discovery is a neglected rose bush in a shocking shade of neon pink! I saw it glowing in the distance as the evening settled around the garden, and I thought, “What the hell is that?!” It was a fun little discovery, especially since it’s a color I probably wouldn’t have picked out. I’ve since dug it up and am trying to nurse it back to health — I intend to eventually transplant it to a spot where I can enjoy it more and keep an eye on any root suckers that pop up. (Tentative identification of this rose is “Perfume Delight” — what do you think?)

One of the parts I enjoy most about these discoveries is the opportunity to expand my knowledge in caring for something new — in this case, I’ll be reading up on successfully pruning fruit trees this winter and researching what can be done for whatever seems to be afflicting it. And though I already transplanted the rose, it proved to be much trickier than I thought. (I’m not sure I did a great job, to be honest. Only time will tell.)

“Forever a student” has been my mantra this year and will be for years to come. I’m so looking forward to my next surprise — I’m sure it’s just around the corner, waiting patiently.

Mid-August Garden Tour

The mornings are feeling darker and cooler these days, and I know fall is swiftly making her way toward us. I catch sight of the massive spider nests wound in the black walnut trees and am reminded of “The Ash-Tree,” a spooky short story about spiders from one of my favorite horror writers, M.R. James. I’m feeling about ready to curl up with a copy of his stories and a cup of tea, but there is lots to do before fall arrives.

And speaking of fall, remember in my last garden tour I mentioned one of the failures for this year was the pumpkins? Well, color me surprised — I now have four little pumpkins growing! These were seeds we’d saved from the decorative pumpkins and gourds at our wedding, and I’m so delighted we’ll have a few little guys to display on our front porch. The wedding pumpkins legacy continues!

Though the days are feeling shorter and the mornings and nights colder, we are still reaching temps in the high 80s during the day. The cucumbers and peas are really putting out, but the green beans and burgundy beans are slowing. Next year I will plant twice the amount and possibly plan for a second sowing around midsummer.

The tomatoes are finally ripening now that daytime temperatures have dropped slightly, and I’ve now got quite an abundance of tomatoes growing on one single plant, all thanks to a trick I saw on Instagram for pollinating them — just give the flowers a little jiggle for a few seconds to help them along, and they’re much more likely to pollinate. Works like a charm!

My roses have also responded to the slight temperature change and have resumed blooming. I don’t talk about my roses too much because they were kind of a pain for the first few months after I planted them — too many problems with aphids and blackspot, but it all vanished once I started piling compost/manure around them. (Who would have thought?) I’m now determined to transform the overgrown backyard patch into a thriving rose garden and will be planting a few more varieties this fall. (Currently on my wishlist are “Koko Loko” and “Lady of Shalott”)

The cabbages, in stark contrast, have been munched to bits. There will be no sauerkraut in my future, unfortunately. Next year I’ll do some companion planting and give them a little more attention.

The dahlias continue to bloom, and I’ve spotted the first buds on one of my late-sown Swan Island dahlias — “Sonic Bloom,” though I think it will still be a while before she unfurls in all her raspberry-mauve glory. Some will not bloom this year, as a few of the plants are still small and in a slightly shaded location, which is good information to tuck away for the coming spring. But I’m not giving up hope, as I had dahlias blooming last November — you just never know!

My mind is already scheming about next year’s garden, and I’m having a hard time reigning it in — there is still plenty to do before I feel I can hermit myself away with notes and seed catalogs for next year. Such is life, I suppose. I’m determined to enjoy every minute of it.