Shelter in the Garden

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Heart stepping stone & Rudbeckia flowers

Anytime I feel worried, distracted or stressed out, the garden is my refuge. As my husband and I shelter at home, we, like many of you, have found solace outdoors and in observing the creatures with whom we share our garden.

This week I have experienced sunshine on my brow, wind whipping at my neck, and what looked like a giant bean bag had exploded over the yard (an unexpected hail storm). Just experiencing the beauty and variety of changing spring weather firsthand reminds me that I’m alive, that I have so much to be grateful for.

In nurturing other living things–from houseplants to spring bulbs, to seedlings to mason bees to compost (yes, compost is alive–very alive!), we nurture ourselves. When its hard to concentrate or absorb things intellectually and emotionally, gardening grounds us.

I am thankful that I have a garden space, the physical ability and free time to work outside, and so many kind gardening friends who share the love of plants. My wish for you during this difficult time–that you can give yourself some self-care time in the garden.

To read fascinating research by UW Professor Kathleen Wolf and others: “that nature experiences provide an antidote to stress and support general wellness, offering restorative experiences that ease the mind and heal the body”, check out Green Cities: Good Health webpage

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Peas: Sweet & Snappy

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Snap Peas planted in early to late March should be ready to harvest mid to late June.

It’s time to plant peas–we’re a few weeks from average last frost date (April 15th in Kitsap County).

Last year I grew snow peas (a favorite from my childhood); this year I’ve chosen sugar snap.  And because I love fragrant flowers, I usually grow sweet peas, too.  This year I’m trying Finnriver Sweet Pea Mix grown by Essential Blooms in Chimacum, WA for Hudson Valley Seed Co.

Peas are a cool weather crop, which makes it hard to remember that if you plant them too early, they won’t germinate–and in our wet soils, the seeds can rot before sprouting.

I’ve heard people say they like to get them in around President’s day, but in my garden, that’s too early in all but the warmest of springs.  Of course, nothing says you can’t be early & optimistic, replanting later if needed.

Besides planting too early, one of the pitfalls I’ve experienced is losing the seed and/or tiny sprouts to hungry birds. It’s happened with corn and beans, too. When I think about it, it makes sense–the seed I’m putting in the ground is the form I myself will eat at harvest time (perhaps just a bit drier). Why wouldn’t a bird be drawn to the nourishing meal of a whole pea, bean or corn kernel?

This is why I take an extra step after I plant peas (and beans and corn), and cover the area with some wire mesh.   It’s kind of a pain, but it’s better than having to plant seed again in a few weeks, having lost precious growing time.

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Mesh is tied to trellis with twist tie and secured on the ends with metal landscape staples.

Well-secured and staked in place 6 inches over the soil level, the mesh protects it from getting crushed or eaten before the seedling forms the first 2 sets of true leaves. When they’re all up and thriving, the mesh comes off and I begin to train them to climb.

For more information about growing peas in the Pacific Northwest, WSU’s Home Gardening Series has a great publication: Growing Green Peas in the Home Garden

To learn about Essential Bloom’s Finnriver Sweet Pea Mix: Essential Blooms

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Bees, Please!

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Bee Happy! Plant asters for nectar and pollen.

Savvy gardeners are learning how important bees and other pollinators are to a healthy and abundant garden.  A healthy garden is a balanced eco-system with plentiful habitat for beneficial insects. We can say “Bees, Please!” by limiting our  pesticide use, by growing a variety of flowers that bloom in different seasons and by keeping some areas of our yards more natural. One way to do this is to keep and use mother nature’s free mulch: fallen leaves!

Learn how you can make a difference in your own garden:

Publication by Timothy Lawrence, WSU: Pollination and Protecting Bees and other Pollinators
Xerces Society: Bring Back the Pollinators

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Snowdrops & Sunshine

What a treat to have sunshine these last few days to peruse the garden for late winter blooms! I collected a handful of double snowMini bouquet wtih double snowdropsdrops (Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’) this week for a friend. Their diminutive charm and sweet but subdued fragrance is lost from a distance in the garden but perfect for a wee bouquet that can be marveled over close up.

Green flowers are a favorite of mine, so I love the green spots on the 3 outer tepals and the verdant picotee of the inner frill (not a botanical term). Four slender leaf blades from Carex ‘Evergold’ add a little something but don’t outshine the snowdrops.

My milk flowers, as they are sometimes called, are a small colony of summer dormant bulbs grown in an area of part shade and rich leafy mulch gifted from a Bigleaf Maple. They’ve been there forever, without care or input. While they may be tiny, and their season short, the joy they bring is outsized–especially on a sunny day in February.

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Gardening Through Art Workshops

https___cdn.evbuc.com_images_89163727_399006853547_1_originalFriend, local artist, teacher and family farmer Elise Watness Maupin of Joyful Plant is hosting a new set of Gardening Through Art workshops starting next month.  She’s inviting folks of all experience levels to participate in monthly classes for discovery of the botanical kingdom through artistic observation. Attendees will examine plant anatomy to notice simplified shapes, lines, values, colors, and functions of the plant world to learn from nature.

The first class is “Spring Bulbs and Charcoal Drawings”, and all will be held in Belfair, WA–sign up for individual classes or the series. To learn more about the class topics, dates, materials and registration information, click here to link to her website: Joyful Plant Events 

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Garden Journal Feedback

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An Image from my Journal

THANK YOU to all of you who came out for my presentation last week “Rooted in Observation: The Garden Journal.”  I was thrilled to see so many friendly faces and meet new friends while sharing a topic that I truly enjoy.  If you attended my presentation, I would love to hear about your own journal topics and techniques.  I get inspiration from other gardeners’ skills and talents, and the same is true from others’ garden journals.  Use the comment box below if you’d like to share journal ideas.  Or if you have thoughts about what you took away from, or suggestions for improving my seminar; I’d love to hear from you.   Thanks again!

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Start Garden Journaling in 2020

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The first seed catalog arrived in my mail this week. It’s the time of year when garden plans are swirling around my head, fueled by weather and holiday-driven indoor days. With my journal by my easy chair, I’ve been penning dreams and goals for 2020, and documenting the harvest of a few carrots, chard and beet greens from my 2019 planting efforts. Garden journaling in January seems natural in the cycle of things–apropos that I’ll be teaching a seminar open to the public on the topic in a few weeks.  Join me for:

Rooted in Observation: The Garden Journal
Keeping a garden journal is a wonderful way to document and enjoy one’s garden. Colleen Miko will share why she keeps a journal and what she’s learned from 25 years of chronicling her Port Orchard garden. Whether you’re experienced in journaling, or would like to know how to start, you’ll learn different styles and techniques for creating a personalized garden tracking system. There are many simple options to choose that allow you to be more organized, and productive no matter what kind of gardening you love. You might even find, as Colleen does, that the very act of following the garden through a journal, brings great pleasure.

Thursday, January 16, 2020 from 1-3pm
at the Norm Dicks Government Center first floor classroom
345 6th Street, Bremerton, WA 98337

The class is the first of the 2020 Master Gardener Foundation of Kitsap County Spring Seminar Series. Tickets are $5 at the door, no RSVP needed. Proceeds support the WSU Kitsap Master Gardener Program of Kitsap County. For more information on the seminar series, visit: www.kitsapgardens.org
SEE YOU THERE!

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Edible Garden Evolution: Raised beds

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Raised beds built on sloped ground have taller sides on the downslope.  Existing hose connection is between the two center beds.  A ramp was used to fill the beds with a wheelbarrow.

 

My original garden was row-style, which afforded a lot of flexibility. No borders allowed me to expand on all sides as I pulled blackberries and amended soil gradually over the years.  I broadcast cover crop seed liberally over the whole area and turned it in easily while weeds were efficient to hoe in the open soil.  Large and sprawling plants like winter squashes could have free reign and it also made it possible to rotate my plantings without a great deal of forethought.

When brainstorming a new garden, however, I knew that raised beds were the way to go.  We decided to go first class since this garden will be the space we’ll use for vegetables until we can’t garden any longer.  Here are some of the reasons I chose to build raised beds:

  • Require less bending & therefore are physically easier to tend for longer in our lives
  • The soil in raised beds is protected from the compaction of foot traffic
  • Paths surrounding are easier to maintain when the soil you’re planting in doesn’t wash out into the paths
  • You fill the beds with soil of the ideal texture rather than being stuck working with what nature deposited in your garden (no glacial till, rocks or sticky clay) and therefore you can have a balance of good drainage & moisture retention
  • Soil in raised beds warms up faster–plants are active sooner and produce later.
  • If you line your raised beds with metal landscape mesh, you can exclude pests that tunnel such as moles and voles (plentiful in my garden)
  • Hoops that serve as framework to attach cloches (protective devices) are easy to anchor to the sides of raised beds.

The big question was what material to use for the raised beds.  What gardener doesn’t have bookshelves of “garden porn” or binders of inspirational landscape plans incised from magazines?  I perused hundreds of unique, gorgeous, artistic and more or less functional vegetable gardens, not to mention falling into the rabbit hole of internet images.

When we were still planning on constructing the beds ourselves, the plan was to use stacking stone.  I don’t have carpentry skills but can set stone walls.  The material lends itself to our sloped ground.  Gayle at Dancing Raven Design has beds built this way and I admire how they look and function.

Once we decided to have them built for us, the materials were no longer limited by my own capacity to work with them.  New options appeared.  The final decision was composite lumber (think of the deck boards made of recycled plastic and wood fiber).  Why composite? Unlike stacking stone, which could shift or slide when turning cover crops, or otherwise working the beds, lumber won’t move.  I wanted the end result to last and not have to be rebuilt.

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4 x 8 bed lined with landscape mesh on the bottom.  Vertical sides supported with inside stakes to prevent composite lumber from bowing.  Plumbing straps from side to side to add an extra element of support while filling with soil.

Clearly pressure treated lumber was out because of the potential for harmful chemicals to leach out into the soil, and regular lumber, even cedar would rot in a matter of years.  Amazing that the decision that took months to make can be summed up in one paragraph.

 

For more information on the pros and cons of raised beds, read WSU Fact Sheet FS075E by Craig Cogger “Raised Beds: Deciding if they Benefit your Vegetable Garden” at

http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/FS075E/FS075E.pdf

©Colleen Miko, 2016

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Evergreen Violet–Native Plant Fix

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Viola sempervirens (evergreen violet)

We are blessed with many native violets in the Pacific Northwest–blue, white and yellow flowered.  My hands down favorite is the sweet, little yellow violet with evergreen foliage.  When it comes into bloom it’s a charming sight. So diminutive and plain-clothed in it’s greenery, you don’t notice even a sizable colony until it breaks into flower at the end of March, early April.  All year round its there, evading the eye and the weed whip.  The tiny but leathery foliage hugs the ground tightly on this roadside in Port Orchard, WA. But look at it now: pure, unadulterated spring cheer!

Don’t forget that April 24-30th, 2016 is Native Plant Appreciation Week–go out an appreciate a plant near you!

©Colleen Miko, 2016.

 

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Edible Garden Evolution

Edible Garden Evolution: “Recognition: If we wait to do this entirely on our own, it will never happen”

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BEFORE: This sunny lawn area will be the new vegetable garden (old vegetable garden in background is now mostly shaded).  Several established shrubs would need to be removed, as well as all of the turf and rock edged planter bed.  The valve for the lawn sprinklers would need to be converted to drip.  April 2015

Summer 2014 I hired my good friend and edible garden consultant, Gayle Larson (Dancing Raven Design) for a few hours to evaluate my design thoughts for the new vegetable garden. My landscape design experience is primarily with ornamentals.  Vegetables are not my strongest suit and I thought this would be the shot in the arm I needed to get me out of the “design phase”.  She and I laughed about how the DIY mindset can lead to paralysis.  Do you, too, struggle with hiring someone if the project is one you are capable of doing yourself?  Even if you lack the time needed to accomplish it?  Darn it!  It’s the principle, not just the cost savings.

In spring 2015, my husband and I started the project again with all the earnest that results from reading seed catalogs all winter. I circled weekend days off and guarded them jealously. “GARDEN” was penned in bold letters to fill the entire calendar square.  We built most of our landscaping ourselves over the years–from pergolas to flagstone walkways to a propane firepit–we could do this if we simply blocked out the time.

Well, yes, we could. Slowly.  After the entire spring and summer of available days off, this is what we accomplished: removed a concrete and stone planter we built in 2002 and what plants remained in it; rented a sod cutter, removed and hauled 1700 square feet of lawn elsewhere on our property; collected enough cardboard to thickly overlap and mulch the bare dirt before any grew back; dug tenacious perennial lawn weeds as they rebounded from the root; made 4 trips with our trailer to load and unload free arborist chips wheel barrow by wheelbarrow to mulch the entire area; placed the stones from the old planter along the intersection of lawn and new bed; dug and transplanted or gave away 8 large ornamental shrubs from the area.

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MID-SUMMER 2015: Lawn has been removed with sod cutter and hauled away; concrete and stone planter has been dug out; cardboard and arborist chip mulching is underway.  Four roses, two Japanese barberries, two Olearia shrubs and a mass of gladiolas still need to be dug.

It’s not liked we slacked off, yet our biggest accomplishment was a shift in attitude. Fall came and no veggies had been planted or harvested. If we continued to work on the project ourselves, it would take 5 years to complete. We could afford to have help and we were now willing to pay for it.  The next thing I knew, it was the rainy season and New Year’s Eve.

To be continued….

©Colleen Miko. 2016

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