Beds Done

I had planned to wait longer before tackling the vegetable bed, but the weather was decent yesterday and I’m riding a wave of motivation, so it was back to the beach for a massive load of driftwood, then home to make a Pinterest-worthy veggie garden. I do believe my driftwood collecting days are behind me at the point. Hallelujah.

I would classify this as a take on a keyhole garden, though it doesn’t have the telltale shape. Still, the cut-ins allow for easy access to the veggies without trampling on the soil, which at some point will hopefully be home to many worms and microbes. The first step was to rough out the border and cut-ins. I had a general image in mind, but let the size and shape of the wood I’d harvested dictate how the bed ultimately turned out.

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Then I back filled all the wood to finish off the bed.

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This piece of driftwood had a 90-degree angle so I it worked perfectly for one of the cut-ins.

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A birds-eye view of the front yard. You can see the left side of the veggie bed is much darker (waterlogged) than the other parts of the yard. All the water flows to that part of the yard, and I’m trying to figure out how to deal with this, or if I even need to.

You can also make out a few channels I’ve dug into the topsoil to try and channel rainwater down towards the pond. I’m not sure if these will work, but there’s way too much mud in the yard right now after a night of rain, and I need to solve that before I seed any of the walkways. (The red is the clay that underlies the entire yard.)

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And I nearly forgot — turns out my Black Locust is actually a Eucalyptus tree (on the left). I had my suspicions from the beginning (and the tree had no name tag on it), but my tree knowledge isn’t that great and I figured the salesman who sold me the tree knew what he was talking about. They’re now trying to track down a Black Locust and will take the Eucalyptus back, hence it’s back in its pot.

Probably not too much action here a few days at least. Have a good week everyone.

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Driftwood Paradise

It was a gardening assault here for the last two days, and I loved every minute of it even though my body is zapped at the moment. I was able to get all of the beds/guilds set up, trees and shrubs planted, and various piles of dirt shuffled here and there. I had to make an early morning trip to the beach to get another haul of driftwood, and I’ll need one or two more to get the materials to put around the large vegetable bed. But that’s a project for another weekend.

In the real ‘forest’ part of the forest garden, I made three large guilds. You can hardly make out any of the plants in these pictures since they are so small and leafless at the moment. To the left is the Acacia tree with one of the cherries planted nearby.

In the center is the dogwood with an autumn olive in front to hopefully provide nitrogen to the dogwood.

To the right is the Black Locust tree with the other cherry bush planted in front. All of these guilds will be full of beneficial/edible flowers, herbs, and other plants, and figuring out what to plant and where is my next stage of design.

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Part of the Black Locust guild also stretches along the walkway. There I’ve planted the two tiny Sea Buckthorns with another autumn olive in between. This will be a nitrogen-fixing paradise! Now I just need to figure out what to plant to take advantage of all that nitrogen.

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Next to the pond I transplanted the pear tree and gave it its own guild which I will plant with nutrient-fixing plants and plants that attract predators to the pests that will eventually want to eat up my pears. Part of my reasoning for putting the pear tree here is because I’ve read that you need two trees to cross-pollinate, though some species only require one. I’m not sure which my mine is, but the guy across the street has a pear tree growing, so I’m hoping that my tree is close enough to cross-pollinate with his, if need be.

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There are three blackberry plants next to the pear, and next to them I planted the fig tree, with enough space to plant some beneficial planets beneath it. There’s a bed next to the fig which I am thinking of using for Jerusalem artichokes. I don’t want to put them in the other guilds because they have a tendency to spread, so I wanted to give them their own, confined space.

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I was able to accomplish all of that yesterday, with the relatively small task of whipping the other side of the yard into shape today. I had already chipped away at it during the week, so my main job today was constructing a keyhole bed that I’ll use for veggies and herbs that don’t like as much sun as they would get in the front yard. Along the walkway I prepared a bed that I’ll use for asparagus. Beyond the keyhole bed is a pretty large area where I planted the Japanese Alder and the Strawberry tree, and I have lots of space to plant a lot of other, yet-to-be-determined, things. My only concern with this area of the yard is that it’s really wet. I really like how the keyhole garden turned though.

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The final bed I created is at the base of the hill adjacent to the lawn. This is the former site of my sprawling compost pile, so it has a lot of decomposing matter under the dirt that I’m thinking will really benefit whatever I end up planting here.

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Here’s a semi-birds eye view of the whole spread.

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I’m thrilled with how everything turned out, and equally as happy to have all that work behind me. Now I’m waiting for a deluge to show me how good a job I did grading out the beds. And of course, hopefully nothing dies!

The next major tasks I have, in terms of physical labor, are collecting wood for the vegetable garden and getting that area squared away — maybe next weekend depending on weather. After that, I’ll grade out all of the walkways and seed them with white clover, which is trample resistant, fixes nitrogen, attracts bees, and provides shelter for a host of other creepy crawlies.

An equally taxing task, though not physical, is mapping out each guild and deciding what to plant in each of those spaces. I already have most of the species in mind, but need to order seeds and start germinating them. I think we need a few more consistent degrees of warmth before I can start doing that though.

Overall, an awesome weekend. It’s really great to see the ideas I’ve been forming over the last few months coming to life. Time for a celebratory cocktail!

Family Portrait

Tis the eave of planting here, with a warm and for the most part dry weekend ahead of us. I received the last of my initial saplings in the mail last night and have been fired up all week looking forward to getting everything in the ground. Also on the list of things to do this weekend: get rid of that friggin fridge.

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So here’s a rundown of what I’m planting along with the benefits of each plant. Starting on the left…

First is a Mimosa variety of Acacia. It fixes nitrogen, attracts bees, and will provide shade for the porch. On the right is a Black Locust tree. I chose this primarily because it also fixes nitrogen and will shade the porch and the lawn/BBQ haven next to the house.

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Next, from left, is a fig tree, because I love figs. It will also provide some privacy from the street. In the middle is a Kousa Dogwood, which has beautiful white flowers that attract bees, and produces edible fruit. I will also provide some shade/privacy on the porch. Next to that is a tiny little Japanese Alder, which will fix nitrogen and provide shade to the side yard.

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Moving on… Two Nanking Cherry plants, which obviously provide fruit, and will attract bees when in bloom. On the right on two Autumn Olive plants, which fix nitrogen and provide edible berries.

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And finally, on the left is a Strawberry Tree which I bought on a whim. It will produce fruit and hopefully attract bees. To the right are male and female Sea Buckthorn plants. They are really small — smaller than I thought — and they weren’t cheap, so I’ll have to cage them up so no small children go plowing over them. See Buckthorn also produces edible, Vitamin C-packed berries and fixes nitrogen.

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As you can see, it’ll be a while before this place even remotely resembles a forest, and I won’t be reaping the benefits of these plants for several years at least. But I’m totally excited about getting everything in the ground and watching it mature.

I’ll update again over the weekend with the results. Happy Friday.

Taking Shape

I was able to make up for yesterday’s lethargy this afternoon with some major earth moving. It was another stunning day so after a few hours in the office this morning I hastily came home and set about reforming my yard. I had already leveled half of the planting beds, so I finished that off and excavated a pathway across the yard between the upper half, where trees and shrubs will go, and the lower have, which will be mostly occupied by my vegetable garden.

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During this process I had piled up all the dirt I intended to use for the veggie patch, with no real intention of doing much with it today. But with daylight and motivation still in good supply, and a bit of time left before I needed to pick my kids up from daycare, I went ahead and did a first go-around of a keyhole-type garden. This might have been a waste of energy since I have really given zero thought to where I will actually situate various vegetables in this garden, and I could end up filling in the paths and starting over. But I was curious to just try it out, and it wasn’t that much work.

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It’s hard to tell the size of the keyhole bed in that picture, but it’s pretty large, and coupled with the other bed I will build on the other side of the yard, I should have no problem fitting in all the veggies I want to grow.

Basically I’m ready to get the trees and shrubs in the ground, as soon as I figure out where to put them all. Though I should probably grade out the side yard and find a home for all the dirt there before I put anything in the ground. Hopefully I’ll be able to take care of that over the weekend, if not before.

I also fished the shiitake logs out of the pond — which had frozen over night — and set them up behind the house, which is the darkest place we have in the yard. Hopefully the cold/frozen conditions weren’t too detrimental.

I have a feeling I’ll be pretty sore tomorrow, which is just as well since between crappy weather and some work I probably won’t have much opportunity to landscape for a few days.

Here’s a new episode of Gozaimasu! My podcasting partner is out of town, so it’s just me, and all I talk about is my garden!

Shiitake Logs

Here’s a recipe for not taking advantage of the first sunny day in a week: Go to you neighbor’s house, where they are swilling wine and cooking pizza in their wood stove. Spend afternoon eating pizza and drinking wine. Return home and half-drunkenly start doing yard work until another neighbor drives by and invites you to his house for further imbibement. Oblige.

That’s about how it went today. So needless to say, I didn’t get as much forest garden preparation done as I could have. But I have managed to purchase quite a few shrubs and trees over the last few days, even finding some of the more rare varieties I was looking for locally. I’m very excited about that, but I’ll hold off on posting in full detail until I’ve assembled the entire repertoire.

For now, I’ll just talk a little shiitake. In Japan it’s pretty routine to find inoculated logs in the home center — not sure if this is common in the States since gardening wasn’t on my radar before I came to Japan. I’ve been meaning to snag a couple of logs for while now, and the other day I finally did. The logs have a bunch of holes drilled in them that are plugged with some kind of foam containing the mushroom spores.

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I’d read somewhere that all you need to do is smack the logs on the ground to release the spores, put them in a shady spot and wait for the mushrooms to start growing. However, the little pamphlet that came with the logs recommends soaking them in water for 12-24 hours first. Good thing I have a pond! And lots of driftwood to keep the logs submerged!

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I’ve yet to decipher the rest of the instructions, but as long as the local crows don’t pick out all the plugs before I get the logs out of the water, I think we’re in business regarding shiitake. For now, I need to sleep off an afternoon’s worth of booze.