archive, January - April 2006

Landblog Main
previous archive

Plant Order -- 21 January 06 -- The other night I finally made my seedling order for spring planting. The big challenge this year was to find an Ashmead's Kernel apple seedling on standard non-dwarfing rootstock. (For more about apples, check out my apples post from last August.) I could only find one nursery, Greenmantle, that might offer Ashmeads on standard. When I got through to them on the phone, it turned out they didn't have Ashmeads, or my next three picks, on anything but bench grafts, which require pre-planting and care in a sheltered location, which I'm not in a position to do. Also, they didn't have the cherries I was going to order from them. So I crossed Greenmantle off my list, and went to St. Lawrence Nurseries, from which I was already planning to order my other four apple trees, to pick out a fifth. And I discovered that since last fall they've added Ashmeads! St. Lawrence puts all their apple trees on standard rootstock, and the other nice thing is that their land is even colder than mine, so their plants are certain to survive my winters.

Anyway, from St. Lawrence, I ordered five apple trees. A lot of the varieties I was looking at last August, like Orleans Reinette and Suntan, turned out to not be cold-hardy enough for my land. I ended up choosing: 1) Ashmeads, my pick for best all-around apple, a frequent winner of blind taste tests, easy to grow, disease resistant, a good keeper, bears young. 2) Chestnut crab, said to be the best-tasting crabapple. "Crabapple" is a vague term that pretty much means a variety with really small fruits. There's no reason they can't have flavor as good as regular apples, and they tend to be great pollinators. 3) Fameuse, also called Snow, an interesting apple with snow white flesh, great flavor, a cold-hardy long-lived tree, and the apples keep until Christmas. 4) Golden Russet. "Russet" is another vague term for an apple variety with rough blotchy skin. You can't maximize more than one variable, so since the popular apple varieties are chosen to maximize shiny pretty skin and crunchy texture, other qualities are not at their best. Russets tend to have excellent flavor and keep well, and Golden Russet is my pick for the best. It's great for breeding, has some disease resistance, flavor of course, and it's said to keep all the way from September to April! and 5) Prairie Spy, a good all-around apple, which I picked over other good all-around apples because I really like the name.

Also from St. Lawrence I ordered two Montmorency cherry trees, the classic tart cherry, one of my favorite fruits. Sweet cherries taste boring to me. Montmorency is supposed to be a big tree, but many nurseries put it on a dwarfing rootstock. St. Lawrence uses Mahaleb, only slightly dwarfing, probably the best cherry root for my land.

Then, to replace some of my plants that died last summer, I got two "Juneberry" bushes, more commonly called Serviceberry, also called Saskatoon. And two "Black Chokeberry" bushes, more commonly called Aronia, and one female Sea Buckthorn.

At one point I had five nurseries listed that I might order from, but again this year I managed to get it down to two, which reduces shipping costs. The other was Burnt Ridge, which has a nice-looking new website. From them I got two cold-hardy peach varieties, Reliance and Veteran, two cold-hardy pecan varieties, Kanza and Pawnee, and four blueberries, Spartan (best early), Bluecrop (mid-season, best all-around), Rubel (mid-season, most nutritious), and Brigeeta (best late season because of its great keeping qualities, usually spelled Brigitta). Also two "Honeyberry" plants, also called Blue Honeysuckle, super-cold-hardy and ripening as early as May, and two Filberts, Barcelona and Clark (which seem to pollinate each other but there's so little information online that I'm not 100% sure -- I may have to get a third one). Finally, two blue elderberries (the elder that's native to my region), two black hawthorns (a good ecological plant that I'll probably let the birds eat), and an expensive male Sea Buckthorn to replace my dead one.

Total cost: just over $200 for each nursery, or $400 total, less than a middle class American spends on food in a month. Both nurseries delay shipping until April, but give first pick to people who order sooner. So I'll drive up in April from my Spokane housesit, and if the roads are still too muddy, I'll have to bike the seedlings in the last two miles. Last year I tried to plant 45 bushes with no holes dug, which is why I had to plant them badly in the wrong places and so many of them died. This year I have 25 big holes ready for only 29 plants. I dug a hole for an almond but decided to put it off until next year, since I need the Titan variety, and I'd have to get it from a third nursery, and also I'm not sure anyone has it on a rootstock I like.

One more thing: Washington state has been soaked with rain this winter, and the drought is over!

Spring Planting 2006 -- 7 April 06 -- Because of global warming, plants are breaking dormancy early this year, and nurseries had to ship them early, before I was ready. Before I even got to Spokane, my seedlings from Burnt Ridge were waiting by the front door, and a few days later the St. Lawrence seedlings came. So I had $400 in plants waiting under the back deck, budding like they shouldn't be budding for another month, before I even had car access to take them up to the land, and long before the road was fit for a normal car or bike.

I had to walk them in. Early yesterday morning I loaded the car, stopped to buy peat moss for the blueberries, and drove north. An hour later, where the gravel gave way to dirt, I started walking with just a small backpack and the two long heavy seedling packages. Luckily I didn't have to walk the whole distance. A grey-haired brown-skinned couple in a pickup truck stopped and offered me a ride. I climbed in the back and watched the truck slowly navigate almost a mile of ten inch deep soft mud ruts. Then they dropped me off and I walked the last mile. The whole road isn't as bad as this photo, but this part is even worse than it looks.

The land looks good. I saw an old vehicle track in the last remains of snow on the north-facing access road, and a couple aluminum cans. And a door had been opened on one of the junked cars. So I had uninvited visitors, but as far as I could see, they didn't steal or damage anything. The land is wet! The trail through the bottomlands is a little stream, and the holes I dug for the pecan trees were both full of water. There's a magnificent algae bloom in the spring pool, with incredible bright green color and giant milky balloon membranes around where the water comes up. It actually looks even greener than this!

I had hoped to finish in three hours, but it took more than six! Some of the holes had to be widened or deepened, and all of them, even though I'd left them mounded in the fall, needed more soil after I packed it down. Luckily I never had to go far to find a few handfuls of good dark soil. The funnest part was the mulching. Last year I didn't mulch at all, or if I did, it was with the wrong materials, like a big piece of bark that didn't let any water through. This time I just grabbed whatever was around: last year's dead grass, or dead ferns, or pine needles, or old crumbly cedar. Half the time I could grab mulch without even standing up.

What I planted: five apples, four blueberries, and two each of peach, hazelnut, pecan, tart cherry, blue honeysuckle, blue elder, serviceberry, aronia, black hawthorn, and sea buckthorn. The sea buckthorn from St. Lawrence was large and beautiful. Assuming it survives, I'll buy all future sea buckthorns from them. Their juneberries and chokeberries (serviceberry and aronia) were tiny, but healthy-looking with good roots. Both cherries looked great, and the apples were mixed. The healthiest-looking was the prairie spy, so I'm thinking I didn't really choose that variety for the name, but because I had an intuition that it would be a great tree.

The black hawthorns from Burnt Ridge were much bigger than I expected for $3.50, and a lot of work to plant for fruit I'm just donating to birds. Their peaches and blueberries were nice too. We'll see if they survive. And on the pecans, I'm doing a gamble within a gamble: I went ahead and planted them in the waterlogged holes. They're a water-loving tree, so I think they can tolerate submerged roots part of the year, but certainly not all the year. The question is, can they tolerate it during the part of the year when the place I planted them is full of water? If they can, it's the perfect spot for them, and I have to try it. If not, I'm only out 40 bucks and I'll try them somewhere else next year.

Another gamble: For the second year in a row, I had to plant without critter protection. I have nowhere near the resources to build fences, and on this trip I didn't even have time for the little wire-mesh guards that I had planned. But the seedlings were in much greater danger waiting a few more days to get in the soil, than being in the soil and exposed to critters. All last year the only serious damage was a moose eating most of a red osier dogwood that I stuck in the middle of its trail. Apparently the deer on my land aren't as destructive as suburban deer. But I've just put out tastier plants for them, so I'll spray on Deer Out when the leaves appear, and do the wire guards later. And I learned another trick in my permaculture class: one of the teachers told us that she scatters buckwheat, and the deer eat that instead of eating her garden. I'm sure it helps if you talk to the deer.

Notes from Permaculture -- 22 April 06 -- Here's a compilation of stuff I wrote in my notebook in the permaculture class, plus a bit of research. This is not a list of everything I know! It's the very best stuff that added to my knowledge in a particular class. I might do another post later on stuff I learned that was not in the curriculum.

  1. Ethics (Holmgren): 1. Help the land. 2. Help people. 3. Distribute surplus. And some principles: See whole systems, apply feedback (pay attention and adapt), recycle waste, maximize edges, use small and slow solutions, "the problem is the solution," perennials are better, and the only limit to yield is the imagination of the designer.
  2. Plant comfrey under trees. It's a great dynamic accumulator, blocks grass, and edible, especially the flowers. Dynamic accumulator = a plant that accumulates valuable minerals and puts them in the soil. Also great under trees: dandelions, figwort.
  3. Protect young nut trees with thorny shrubs (gooseberry is good). By the time the tree bears, it shades out the shrubs. Or plant fruit/nut trees in an existing thicket.
  4. Cattail and jerusalem artichoke are the fastest biomass builders.
  5. A use for thistles: fill a barrel with water, stuff it with thistles, wait until it gets bubbly, and you've got "green manure tea," which is roughly the same as compost tea, a natural liquid plant food.
  6. Radish seed pods: better than radish roots and the earliest spring vegetable.
  7. Great mushroom source: Fungi Perfecti. Best mushroom to grow: king stropharia. Mushrooms can feed larvae which can feed fish.
  8. Guinea fowl eat ticks and yellow jackets, and muscovy ducks mow grass. (After more research, both breeds are super-lean white meat -- yuck!) Your ducks won't fly away if you feed them well.
  9. Keep some pests around to feed and attract predators of future pests! And instead of fighting big pest population blooms, wait for them to crash naturally. (Like civilization!)
  10. Keyline system, invented by P.A. Yeomans: dig long channels along contour at steep point in valley, to move water from ponds at the the bottom of the valley out to swales around the ridges. His last book, The City Forest, is online.
  11. Natural pond sealer: put a bunch of organic matter in the pond, thrash the water around, and it forms an anaerobic watertight seal, called "gleying." Pigs can do the thrashing.
  12. Or to dig up a stump: jam some food down under it and get pigs to dig for it.
  13. Propagation trick: cover scattered seeds with heavy tarp, watch, and when they begin to sprout, in the evening remove the tarp and replace with a sheet.
  14. Grafting: Rootstock should have sap flowing, top part (scionwood) should be dormant.
  15. Budding (move bud from one plant to another): Bud doesn't have to be dormant, doesn't have to go where bud was. Bud source should be first year growth, young enough for cambium to peel, old enough to snap when bent.
  16. Coppicing: cut at slant, in winter when dormant.
  17. Pears and medlars can be grafted on hawthorn roots.
  18. Ribes species (currants, gooseberries), and also rose and willow, can be propagated just by jamming a stick in the ground in the fall.
  19. Willow shaving tea encourages branch cuttings to root. Shave stem/leaf node, soak in cold water, dip cuttings in.
  20. Trick for germinating new apple varieties: spread out juicing pulp under dirt. Trick to test a new variety by making it bear fruit young: tie the top of the tree down so it's bent horizontal like a branch. But this permanently stunts growth!
  21. What's the deal with tree trunks painted white? It's to keep them cool in spring so they leaf later and don't get frost-killed.
  22. Permaculturists are more forgiving of "invasive" species than some ecological factions. There's a whole book called Invasion Biology: Critique of a Pseudoscience, arguing that so-called invasive species are "merely symptoms of ecosystem damage, actually helping to heal the planet." Also the anti-invasive movement is closely allied to Monsanto and other poison-sellers, and their language sounds just like Nazi race talk applied to plants.
  23. Dry eastern Washington has a lot more edible plant matter than wet western Washington -- it's all in the roots!
  24. Deforestation is happening faster in the Seattle area than in the Amazon!
  25. Iodine is less toxic than chlorine for sterilizing water. Grapefruit seed extract is best. Polyethylene is the least toxic plastic for pipes.
  26. Bottle window in cob or cordwood wall: cut tops off two bottles (need special tool), fit bottoms together, coat with foil, stick in wall.
  27. Great idea if you have a lot of cedar: roof of overlapping planks.
  28. Cedar inner bark for fiber: strip from recently downed tree, soak 2-3 days, pound between rocks.
  29. Composting toilets: Sun Mar bad, Sunny John good! Two bay toilet: use one for a year, then use the other for a year while the first one composts -- greatly decreases the weight you have to carry.
  30. If wind is strong enough to generate energy, it's strong enough to be a nuisance (or vice versa).
  31. Great ideas: Straw bale urinal -- just pee on a straw bale and it will turn to good compost. Scatter seedballs with a giant slingshot! Use buried phone book as slow water releaser. If you scatter buckwheat, deer will eat it instead of your other plants. Sprinkle baking soda to block slugs.
  32. Warnings: Never sheet mulch on dry ground -- wet it first! Horse manure is likely to be full of invasive seeds. If you kill a weed, and leave the niche, nature will fill it with the same weed, or a worse one! At high latitudes, greenhouses should be transparent on all sides. It's risky to daylight greywater. Metal roofs are really loud in the rain.
  33. Books: Right Plant, Right Place, 1400 plants and what locations or uses they're good for. The Grafter's Handbook, best grafting book. Raising the Home Duck Flock, best duck book. Mycelium Running, "a manual for healing the earth and creating sustainable forests through mushroom cultivation." Native American Architecture by Nabokov. Almost anything by Nancy J. Turner.
  34. Great magazine and book catalog: Acres USA.

Road and Mulch -- 26 April 06 -- I've made four trips up to the land this month. All four times, I parked at the edge of the hills and walked in, a four mile round trip. It's not so bad! It's a nice walk in the woods, and the few vehicles are usually friendly. On my last trip I had some lucky timing. Just as a pickup was coming up behind me, I came to a small tree that the wind had blown down across the road, and I moved it out of the way for the truck to go by. That's nice karmic symmetry for the ride I got in with my heavy seedlings on the first trip. Also, I've been picking up litter along the road. I have some big trash bags stored up at my land, and on my second and third return trips to the car, I half-filled two bags with cans and wrappers and junk. Back home I sorted out the cans fit for recycling and filled two five gallon buckets. By the fourth trip, there was so little garbage left that I just used a little plastic grocery bag. I think cleaning the litter has a psychological effect of making people respect the land more.

The main thing I've done the last three trips, other than watering, is mulching. Up to now I've been doing a half-assed job. If there wasn't good mulch within ten feet, I was just using twigs. Now I'm walking around pulling up last year's dead grass and ferns and laying it down weighted with sticks in thick circles around the plants.

All my seedlings but one survived the winter, and a goumi and a serviceberry came back from apparent death. The dead one is a sea buckthorn: the species I was most sure about, the only one I thought might be invasive, has done the worst! Three of four have died and the fourth is barely alive. And it's not the location, because two aronias are doing fine in the same spot. Also, I noticed that last year's Raintree nursery seedlings had a much better survival rate than the Burnt Ridge seedlings. Possibly I waited too long to put them in the ground and they never recovered. We'll see what happens with this year's planting.

The Lawn -- 30 April 06 -- So I'm not just taking care of remote land. I also have a housesit in Spokane, taking care of a place more like ordinary Americans have to take care of. And there's still non-ordinary stuff I can do! The lawns are not giant but they're good sized, and I mow them both with a Scott push reel mower. It takes less than twice as long as using the gasoline mower, it's much quieter, and it's fun! Without the noise and fumes, it's like taking a walk around the lawn. And it's not hard to push -- I used to get more tired with the gas mower, just from turning the damn thing around, and hurrying so I could quit breathing the toxic fumes sooner.

The dandelions are blooming. Today there were hundreds in the back yard. I'd like to leave them for the bees, and let them all go to seed and spread dandelions everywhere. It's one of the most beautiful, healthful, and ecologically beneficial plants in the world, and Americans try to kill it because... really the only plausible explanation is that people are demonically possessed. For my housesit, I really have to mow the lawn. Since couldn't save the dandelions alive, I saved them dead -- every time I mowed over a patch, I gathered the severed flowers, and here they are, I'm guessing three or four hundred, in a jug of dandelion mead. All the recipes I've seen for dandelion wine call for white sugar and commercial yeast. But the other day I started some mead, so today I started a second jug and stuffed the dandelions in. To make mead, I put maybe a pound of raw honey in a glass gallon jug, fill it with water, shake it around many times over the course of a day to get it dissolved, then just take a couple sips, and micro-critters from my mouth will get in and start it fermenting. Honey is a natural antibiotic, so it takes much longer to ferment than apple juice. I figure it'll be good for drinking in a couple months.

A couple people have commented that I might need a pressure release to stop the bottle from exploding. I think that's only a problem with special lids. I just use the cheap lids that come with the bottle and I've never yet had one that was good at holding internal pressure. Also, I've been drinking from the bottle to start apple juice fermetation for years and never had anything nasty take over. I think the reason brewers are so sanitary is not that it will taste bad or make them sick, but that their special yeasts will lose out to wilder yeasts that don't produce as much alcohol or the particular flavor they're after.

[Update August 2006. After a couple months I took the dandelions out. It tastes great! Strangely, it's not nearly as fizzy as the plain mead.]

next archive