I will be using this thread as a sort of journal of this years adventures at my parents' house/homestead. As things progress, I will be posting pictures and maps, as they are digitally available. For now, I'll give you a written overview.
Bioregion/Geography: Coastal Pine Barrens, Ocean County, NJ
Soils: Lakewood Sands - A - Sand, B- Sand, C - Loamy Sand, D - Sand...It's the beach!!
Lot Size/Setting: 1/10 Acre, suburban, front yard facing south, slightly southwest.
Occupants: My parents and brother, and a beagle
Existing Plant Communities/Site History.: 20-30 year old white oaks in the front yard. There was a large oak, 30-40 ft tall in the front of the yard that was removed a number of years ago, giving the front full sun. That native dominant plant community is pitch pine/sassafras/oak forest. There are no pitch pines on our property, except for a small one and volunteer seedlings here and there, but the lot behind us used to be a pitch pine dominated forest, but was cleared for a storage facility, which installed a drainage ditch with a white pine screen directly behind our fence. They did leave a strip of relatively natural forest there, so tall pitch pines lean over our back fence, partially shading parts of it in summer. The herbaceous layer is very sparse, but where it exists, it's plantains, grasses, and some other unidentified lobed leafed herb that is everywhere, I'll post pictures for help identifying it. There are some garden herbs here and there, as well as some raspberry and blackberry bushes that have been in decline for some years now, needing better care and site to rejuvenate them. There are also a good number of ornamental bushes, trees, and flowers in the back, and mainly the front yard. Overall, it's dominated by early to very early succession species.
Garden Plans for 2012: Strawbale Beds, planted with annuals such as lettuce, kale, cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, peas, cucumbers, squash. Herb spiral to relocate the culinary herbs that we have, and introduce new useful herbs to the mix. Hugelkultur beds planted with perennial leafy greens, flowers, herbs, medicinals, and perennial vegetables like asparagus or rhubarb. The back area will be seeded with partridge pea and perennial lupine, both native nitrogen fixers tolerant of our soil conditions. Throughout the year, I will do chop and drop, and after the season is done, will sheet mulch and plant the herbaceous layer and some of the shrub/small tree layer of a forest garden. The rest of the yard will be wild flowers and berries, as the soil in those areas are fairly decent from years of soil amendment. At most, I'll sheet mulch, and maybe hugelkultur before planting those areas. We also plan on putting in a pond fed by the overflow of the rain catchment system that was recently installed, filtered through bamboo as a side yard screen, and also a bamboo trellis/arbor for the back porch, with grape and maypop climbing up it. The front, currently a lawn with some ornamental beds, will eventually be a wildflower field, with a mostly edible rock garden up front, planted with ground cover juniper, yucca, prickly pear, and any other rocky/drought tolerant plants I can find.
So that's the gist of what we're doing this year, let me know what everyone thinks!! Suggestions and constructive criticism are always welcome!
Oh yea, the last thing we're thinking of adding is a chicken and/or quail coop, which will be constructed from the shell of 1970's VW Bus that we have sitting in our back yard. The details of that aren't quite worked out, it's just an idea we had, and something my dad was interested in trying out. The bus itself will likely be covered in chicken wire/hardware cloth, and will then lead out to a larger chicken run/berry thicket. We'll probably plant currants and other shade tolerant berries, and have hardy kiwi or some other vine covering the run for shade. The primary issue/limiting factor here is the fact that we have neighborhood cats that would love to get their paws on some poultry, so making a secure chicken/quail coop and run will be critical.
Sorry for the delay, I haven't had much time to work on anything lately. Finally got a chance today, and here's where we are right now, in pictures:
This is the overview of the main garden areas (zone 1). It's just off the back deck, and gets the most sun of the whole yard. This was taken at about 4 pm, and as you can see, it gets some shade from two large oak trees. It gets morning sun though, probably up to 8 hours in the sunniest parts. Everything is in progress right now, but on the far left is a fire pit area, adjacent to a flower/herb bed, with a herb hugelspiral in the foreground. On the right is the strawbalekulture beds, which I've slightly modified, as you'll see soon. The back area will be the small food forest/thicket, and to the back left are the oaks and sassafras that are coming down and the small cherry in front of them that will be encouraged to take over.
Close up of stump for herb hugelspiral. I'm hoping to get an answer soon on whether sassafras is allelopathic, as that is what kind of stump it is, but if someone knows the answer, feel free to let me know!!
This is how I modified the strawbalekulture beds a bit, by putting logs in between the two. The soil on top is sifted from some rocks that had been sitting for 15-20 years, which we will be using for the fire pit area. My thinking here is that the logs will help keep the straw bales moist, as I've heard that that can be an issue. The vast majority of the soil we will be adding in the next week or so (some of which you'll see soon), is composted horse manure, and municipal leaf compost. I will also be adding a general soil amendment. If anyone knows if I would need to add anything else to provide a full nutrient complex, that would be much obliged.
Some of our strategic materials depots, natural and milled logs in the foreground, leaves in the background. More on the big grey object to the left in a little bit.
These are the first garden areas we had attempted 5-7 years ago, possibly more. We eventually realized that this was actually the shadiest part of the yard, and decided to relocate. None the less, the soil has become pretty fertile from adding compost and manure, and as I said above, we will be planting wildflowers and various berry guilds in this area, eventually hoping to make it a more free form/wild part of the yard.
This is our raspberry patch. I need to mulch and fertilize, they've been doing pretty poorly in recent years. I may relocate them as well, or at least try to divide them. It's hard to see here, but there's a small blueberry bush in the background, about 5 years old or so, and still hasn't produced berries. There are flowers on it right now, so hopefully this year is the year, but because of how shady this part of the yard is, they're definitely getting transplanted.
Here's our mulch pile. The big grey thing is the VW Bus we're considering turning into a chicken/quail coop. It's nothing more than a shell, no engine, electric parts, or anything of value really. We bought it for $200, which seems like a pretty good price for a chicken coop I think, right? Plus materials, it'll probably cost us $350 total I'd wager.
I think this is a euonymus bush, not sure what kind. The close-up is for identification, if anyone has any ideas. We're going to chop it back to the fence and encourage it to grow onto it, and then make use of the valuable space it was occupying.
So that's where we're at right now. Again, anything anyone has to offer in terms of advice, critique, etc. Let me know what you think!!
Had some kids (I say kids, but they're only 5-8 years younger than me) from the church helping out since I work so much. Here's what they did today:
I wish there were more pictures than this, but first they put down a thin layer of mulch, then covered it in cardboard:
Then they put the logs in place and covered it with manure:
It looks like they might have mixed leaves in too. I hope this doesn't create a problem later on. I plan on topping it with municipal leaf compost before we sow it. It'll likely be a good 5 or 6 inches higher than it is in this picture. Also, I had intended for it to be a curved path, so as to optimize growing space. I'll likely fix that, sawing the logs to make it fit better.
Making progress! Monday is the next work day, so stay tuned...
Luckily I just bought 2 more yesterday. The nursery I work at was having a special push to get blueberry bushes sold, in conjunction with the deli who was selling granola. Being that our nursery is primarily ornamental plants for rich people, we lost that contest, hah. But since it was the last day of the contest, and I wanted to buy some anyway, I purchased some to help our cause, as well as my family's.
Tomorrow is a family gathering for easter, and then monday a work day. Will be transplanting/planting the blueberries then, and finishing up with the bed preparations, and planting some stuff, like peas, beans, flowers, and other leafy greens I might have laying around. Speaking of which, does anyone know how to stratify Good King Henry and Sea Kale seeds??
Here's the manure I've been using. Looks like pretty good stuff. I found the best textured stuff was towards the back of the pile.
Finally finished the firepit. That was a serious drain of energy, but it helped us to be patient, because now we're right on cue for the right moon phase for planting.
As you saw earlier, I sandwiched logs between the strawbales for increased water retention. I decided to top it off with wood chips for good measure.
The herb spiral slowly taking shape.
Some lovely scented lilacs.
Some closeups of the overwintered/perennial stuff, carrots, leeks, oregano, chives, and strawberries.
Sunflowers self-seeded from last year. We hope to make this a much more common occurance in the future.
The herb spiral constructed with a base of manure and sassafras root.
The salad garden coming along.
Blueberries planted, high bush just starting to flower and the low bush full flower.
Municipal leaf compost. Good stuff!!
What I believe to be a grape?? I'm not sure, it looks like a vine, with grape leaf shaped leaves. We'll see what happens with it I guess.
The bed after a good hard rain, you can see the wood became exposed. Definitely needs more layers!
The herb spiral right after completion, about to be planted.
The kitchen garden ready for planting.
Herb spiral post planting. In the back is parsley, in the front is chives and oregano, the second level is creeping thyme, and the very top is rosemary. We also seeded in more parsley, dill, basil, and chervil. More stuff to come.
The front bed and one small section of the second bed build and seeded. The trellis is for pole beans, and perpendicular to that is bush beans, with one row of lettuce for now. We'll add more as the season goes on.
Not sure what the back bed there will be, still thinking on it. Probably either tomatoes and their companions, or brassicas and their companions. Either way, some perennial species will be in the mix.
The salad garden finished and seeded with peas in the back, sorrel, mache, orach, yarrow, carrots, lovage, and one of the divisions of chives. Still have to finish it off, not sure what to plant. Needs to be more shade tolerant I think, possibly woodland species like fiddleheads, wild ginger, violets, and whatever else would work.
Here's what's going in the other beds. Three kinds of tomatoes, three kinds of pepper, two kinds of eggplant, red and green cabbage, broccoli, two sorrel plants, two clumps of yarrow, some squash, one mache, and two lettuce. I should mention that these were year old seeds, so I was surprised with the germination rates I got. Some were clearly pretty bad, but for the solanaceae and brassica plants, germination was near 100%. Some of the herbs did pretty well also.
Well, that's all for now, hope you enjoyed! Sunday is likely going to be rained out, and full planting will continue a week from now, after the seedlings are hardened off.
If we do end up doing the chicken coop thing, it will likely be much later in the season, and only once the back section gets established. At this point, I think my parents can only handle so much, and the garden itself is a bit much to begin with, so it may never happen, but we'll see.
Just a little update. Last sunday, I purchased a cubic yard of mushroom compost from a local farmer, and finished the two back bales, as well as the large bed behind the herb spiral. Here's the pictures I have right now, I'll post more when I do my weekly visit this coming sunday:
Back bed, with rosa bianca and ping tung long eggplant, king of the north, ho chi minh and early jalapeno peppers, and cosmonaut volkov tomato, with a basil plant thrown in for good measure:
Peacevine cherry tomato and glacier early tomato, again with a basil plant in the center of it all. Will be adding onions this weekend:
Lots of other stuff has germinated as well, lettuce, lovage, yarrow, main crop basil, parsley, kale, etc. Will post pics on sunday night, or sometime after that. Stay tuned!
The one in the pot didn't have as much stress as the others.
And since it was further along from the beginning, is also bearing fruit.
Ping tung long eggplants looking nice.
Hoping to see fruit where those flowers are next time I go.
Rosa Bianca taking its sweet time.
Thinned out the lettuces.
And the potatoes have sprouted. I didn't know you were supposed to cut them up, so it's a bit of a dense planting. We'll see how it works out.
The straw bales are definitely on the road to decomposition, thanks to our fungal friends.
We'll have lots of fruit soon! (Strawberries already ripe as you can see. More on the way. )
The arugula is looking quite unruly.
The last thing I have is some pictures for identification. The first one is a plant that I believe to be goosefoot, related to good king henry, and a prime edible. I've nibbled on it a bit, without swallowing of course, and it's not bitter, but quite nice tasting, a bit salty. Anyone know what this is? It self-seeds freely, and is forming some dense little thickets of itself.
The other one looks like mugwort, and spreads like it as well, by rhizome. Very vigorous and troublesome. Does anyone know what this is, and if there is a use for it, or if I should just get rid of it?
The soil type you described is exactly how ours' is. I think the blueberry bush you saw that didn't have any leaves was the late blooming variety after/during which it starts to leaf out. The blueberry closeup I posted was from that bush. They're all looking extremely happy. I think adding hollytone and leaf compost to the hole helped their happiness. We'll see, but right now, they look as happy as clams.
There was one other bush on the other side of the property that just flowered/fruited for the first time this year, which was likely due to how little light it was getting, and also how crowded out it was by the raspberries. After that patch has finished producing for the season, the bush will be dug out and planted near it's com-padres across the yard for the purpose of giving it more sun, and some room to grow and start producing better.
Yep, they will do well in shade but need longer to become productive. Often shady = better water retention so one they start producing they giddyup go. However if they are being watered that is a moot point.
Real quick, while I have your attention, some questions that have sprung to mind. First, I started to mulch the paths, and upon digging into the mulch pile, I found that it was completely infested with termites. Is this something to worry about? Is my parent's home in danger? If I spread it out into a thin layer in a short amount of time, will they disappear? Should I start thinking of ways to reduce their population, and if so, does anyone have any good ones? I did happen to see some birds popping in to help themselves once I started spreading it, so I'm wondering if that in and of itself will control them. How I wish I had quail or chickens right now!!
The second question I had was what does everyone think is the best mulch for this sort of garden? Right now it's mostly annual veggies. Would leaves/leaf mold be a good option? Wood chips? Should I buy some more bales of straw? I've read about the bacteria vs fungal content in soils, and how certain plants prefer certain dominances, which is affected by what they of mulch you use, but it's hard when you have perennials mixed in with annuals. I do want it to look nice though, and have the added benefit of a reduced need to water. Anyone have any input on that subject?
Termites can be a real pest if they establish and won't respect the difference between mulch and the framing of the house. I'd be looking at getting rid of them. Straw would be a good alternative but I'd add some pine needles around the blueberries. Leaf mulch added in the fall is also a good idea to add nutrients and promote a healthy annelid population in the soil.
I would stop mulching. And use chop and drop. Or get a cold composting bin with some red worms to turn the mulch into humus/compost.
Your garden sounds pretty awesome. Here is my current garden in Boston,MA. I grow the vines on the fence and have fruit trees about 3 feet away from then and another row of fruit trees about 10 ft from that.