Friday, April 29, 2011

The Swales or Terraces

Our front yard is just one big ugly hill. The soil is poor, partly because it was graded and stripped of all top soil when the house was built but also because the hill is so steep everything washes away. A steep hill with nothing growing in it just does not retain water or humus. In come swales. I first learned of this from the book Gaia's Garden. A swale catches and holds water in the soil. We first started a hugelkultur swale a couple of years ago. We were amazed to watch how quickly it changed the landscape. This hill would normally grow next to nothing, even weeds don't take root in many places. It very quickly became lush and green.

I was also inspired by the terrace gardens of China. Many cultures have had to garden on hills and they do it successfully by terracing it. Most of the Chinese terraces I saw were just dirt sided, no stones or wood holding it up. And if they are maintained they can last not just hundreds but over a thousand years. I decided this could be a way to actually do something with our big ugly hill and give me more gardening space with full sun. I also quickly learned that I'm rather good with a shovel and it doesn't take that long to sculpt the yard with one.

This is a view from the Fairy Garden. That section there behind it is actually planted with Romano Bush beans, Husk Cherries and some cabbage.

Here is a partial glimpse of the hill from the top. It's steep. The trees and bushes are growing slowly because the water and nutrients are just washing away.

The right side of the photo above and the left below show our first swale. It's the green growing thing. I initially piled large amounts of dead and decaying wood in a swathe all around the hill. I then dug into the hill and tossed the dirt over the wood. It's been planted, all 90 ft in length of it, with potatoes, turnips, lettuce and clover. Clover adds nitrogen to the soil and the turnips were a quick growing green mulch that would hopefully crowd out any weeds before they could get a head start.. And so far it has done that with everything but sorrel. The bed will be furthered refined and shaped once we harvest the potatoes. We are trying to build up the soil.

These next two swales/terraces were mostly dug out by me yesterday. They need to have manure added to them and be further shaped and leveled. But I'm really pleased so far with them. Excuse those big clods of dirt in the first path. They rolled there as I was tossing dirt onto the next terrace.

So instead of one big ugly steep hill we are going to hopefully have long curved terraces full of fruits and vegetables, trees and flowers. That first swale has a Lilac, a few blueberries, a rose, a Rose of Sharon and a fig tree.

More Random Garden Pictures

If you've ever emailed with me you will appreciate that THIS is Saponaria! I bought a single plant of this about 20 years ago for my second ever garden as a teen. It has beautiful pale pink sweet smelling delicate flowers when it blooms. It has an extremely high level of saponins and has been used as a soap since the Renaissance. I've never actually tried out it's cleaning ability.

This is a bed off the back of the kitchen. That's a fig tree straight ahead. The saponaria is off to the left of it. I planted four rows of Dakota Black Popcorn in here as well as We Be Little Pumpkin with the corn. We grew some corn and pumpkins here a few years ago and they did great.

That's a camellia there in the middle that is just obstinate and refuses to apply herself. There are some annuals from the nursery in the front and the bushy stuff on the right is Bee Balm. Against the wall are some Four O'Clocks that can't be killed. I really do like weedy flowering perennials. It's nice to have something that insists on doing well no matter how much you neglect it. Those Four O'Clocks were something I started from seed nearly 20 years ago as well and I transplanted some along with the Saponaria from my parents. And you can't see it but next to the Bee Balm are our back steps and I yanked out some Bee Balm and tossed in some Morning Glory seeds to climb the railing of the steps.

And this is a little bed I hope will be nice one day. It's under my bedroom window. It has some daffodils and narcissus in it. I've tossed in some extra annuals and have planted some annual seeds to help fill in. There also a few perennials I started from seed. I'll need to keep adding more to fill it in eventually. Hollyhocks are next on the list to be transplanted there. I also have some Love Lies Bleeding seedlings that might find a home there. Around that corner is my former herb garden and home to a nightmare of poison ivy....waiting to be killed. It really mars the appearance of the back of the house. That and the giant above ground pool you can catch a glimpse of the in the upper left hand corner of this picture. But unlike the poison ivy it's a lot of fun for the children.

And this is my sad sorry attempt at asparagus below. All I can say is that it's alive and the bed is nearly weed free. I've added lots of manure when I first planted and last fall. I've kept it mulched. But this spring, it's 2nd year, each crown sent up no more than one or two shoots with the exception of one plant. It might be excellent given another 20 years.

Vegetable Garden on the Back Forty

And I need to remember that pictures show up in the reverse order that I add them. This is a Jackson Wonder Bush Lima bean. Mmm. I can't wait. The last time I planted them they grew till they were killed by frost and just kept on producing till then. The heat slowed them down but not the cold.

Right now I have 4 rows of these in each segment and there are 4 segments/rows. There is another set of 4 in the back we are about to paper and mulch over for planting. The beds are about 3.5 ft by 10 ft long.

These are more Sugar Snap Peas because you know 32 ft on the side of the house is simply not enough. You really do have to plant a lot of peas to get much of anything from them. There is no way we could grow too many of these. They were hard to come by too. I need to buy them in bulk. Last year I couldn't get any so had to use what was left from the year before. This year they were back ordered and I had to wait a lot longer to get them than I'd normally plant them. Hopefully I can save seed this year. I just need to figure out how to do it since I do have some other peas planted in the garden.

In the front of the SSP's are a row of Yellow Fingerling Potatoes. On the other side is a volunteer potato I decided to leave and around it I planted Ruby Red Cabbage seedlings I started. I'm anxiously awaiting David having time to put up a trellis of some sort for these peas. *hint* *hint*

This is looking at the garden from the right and down near our driveway. I can't get a complete picture of it because of the size and the lay of the land. The bed closest to you is full of Tomatillo and Jalapeno Pepper plants. They were part of my winter sown seed experiment that I'd thought was going terribly bad but I was wrong. Things actually did well after all. I only experimented with tomatoes, peppers, tomatillo and eggplant this year though. I will absolutely be doing more this coming winter and hopefully it will include a lot of annual and perennial flowers.

This the garden view from the left and back of the house. It looks like about 8 beds but it's really 16. I have a lot planted in there right now but it's all just coming up and can't be seen because of the straw. I only have 3 or 4 beds left to plant...till we make more.

Raised Vegetable Beds

Well, this is a real bummer about only 5 pictures in a post. I don't recall having this problem before. These are some pictures from the raised vegetable beds on the side of the house outside my bedroom window. This is a Forellenschluss.

This is a view from the backyard towards the front. Those are trellis up there. 16 feet on each bed and they are both loaded with Sugar Snap Peas about 8-10 in tall. We can't wait! The kids love just munching fresh Sugar Snap Peas from the garden. I really like to grow things they know they can freely graze on outside.

The arches are a new experiment on the beds. I had plastic on them early this spring and it was amazing with helping the plants to grow underneath. However I found it an awful pain to water because of how we had to secure the plastic to the ground with giant staples. Right now it's covered in deer netting. It keeps the cats out who think a freshly planted raised bed is an ideal litter box. And this summer it should actually help keep the deer from helping themselves.

The tall feathery stuff you see in the bed above and in the picture below is my fennel. I'd always wanted to grow fennel. I'll admit I don't even like to eat fennel like I once used to. But Swallowtail butterflies love to lay their eggs in fennel. Last year I had some and it was covered in Swallowtail caterpillars. The kids love caterpillars and butterflies. Every spring and summer someone is catching Emmeline butterflies and bringing them in the house. My favorite is a bouquet of flowers that comes complete with butterflies!

This is some Rainbow Swiss Chard.

And this is a sweet little Tom Thumb lettuce growing between my rows of Swiss Chard. I love this lettuce. It's a really good tasting butterhead and it's just plain cute.

More Fairy Garden Pictures

I'm just figuring this out again. The last post would not allow me to add more pictures for whatever reason. This is an old settle that belonged to my grandmother that we have on the front porch now. The rose on the porch post is a Zephirine Drouhin that I got for my birthday last year. It's thornless and smells wonderful. And in the hanging basket is a fuschia I got for my birthday this year and just love.

A volunteer sunflower in the Fairy Garden with some violas we planted.

This is sort of the backside of the garden. I widened this bed significantly this spring. You can't really see it that well but that tree in the back right is a dwarf peach with red leaves. And this bed here is full of annuals that will fill in soon enough.

The inside of the garden looking towards the raised vegetable beds on the side of the house.

The Fairy Garden

The Fairy Garden is going very well this year. I'm filling it up with more annuals and new perennial seedlings. The girls are so happy with their garden. We bought them this little pink picnic table last fall.

In the foreground of this picture is a eucalyptus tree. It died down this winter but is coming back at the base. We plan to cut the dead part down soon. Under it I have a bunch of tiny foxglove seedlings. And the barer areas of the garden to the left are actually full of cleome, sunflower and zinnia seedlings.

We plan to put a rustic arbor in this entryway very soon. I have moonflower seedlings at it's base. I grew some there two years and it was one of my absolute favorite flowers that I've grown. David and I love to walk in the garden at night and the moonflowers were just heavenly and filling the air with a wonderful fragrance.

On the left I also have a lot of hollyhock seedlings and I need to transplant them throughout the rest of the Fairy Garden.

The greenery in the foreground is mostly volunteer lettuce.