Stay, Just a Little Bit Longer

The days are really flying by, but this is always the best time of year in Japan — days getting longer, warm days and cool nights, everything lush as lush can be. Soon enough the switch will be flipped, and seemingly overnight the oppressive heat and humidity will be fire up, but that seems weeks away now. The thing I’m noticing in year four of my forest garden is that ground covers are taking over and the time I spend weeding is fading away. Letting the chickens free range part of the time helps in this regard, but I feel like they do as much damage as they do good sometimes.

The predominant ground cover in this guild is wild strawberry, which tends to wither a bit as summer drags on, but this time of year it spreads like mad and produces lots of fruit. There’s also some comfrey, tansy, and bee balm that you can’t see in this picture.

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Things are really going nuts in this guild, much to my delight — feverfew, yarrow, rosemary, comfrey, tansy, lemon balm, St. John’s wort, and probably a few other things have pretty much wiped out weeds here.

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It’s mint madness in this guild, but there’s also chamomile, lavender, comfrey, rosemary, oregano, yarrow, and echinacea battling for space.

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This guild has taken a beating from the chickens, but there’s still a lot of creeping thyme and yarrow holding their own.

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There’s also lots of fruit in the works. We’re getting a bowl of mulberries every day.

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But most things still aren’t quite ready for consumption.
Blackberries…

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Sea buckthorn…

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Hardy kiwi…

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Jerusalem artichokes…

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Some other shots around the garden. The right side is really getting a great canopy going…forest garden.

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I’ve had trouble getting tall trees to take on the other side of the yard though. All in good time.

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And it’s all green.

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Long live early summer.

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Sick Fire Pit, Bro

I finished up the fire pit this weekend, and I’m pretty f-en please with myself. I love landscape design, and when I first designed and actually made my garden I loved every minute of it. Since then, I haven’t had any real projects that required moving and sculpting dirt, or really changing the general layout of my yard and garden. I forgot how fun and creative that can be.

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All of the rocks I used were scavenged from the beach over the last few years. I think my days of hauling really heavy shit from the beach to my garden are in the past, but I’m glad I stockpiled while I had that motivation. Until now, the rocks lined the veggie bed that runs in front of my porch. I’m going to put a proper raised bed there in the near future, so I re-purposed the rocks. I know you’re supposed to use proper fireproof bricks for a fire pit, but I’m using these rocks instead. I burned a large, hot fire for several hours yesterday and none of them exploded. In practice, my fires will be much tamer, so I’m not worried.

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I planned to make pathways into the fire pit/bbq space/wine swilling rotunda that lead from the main walkway in my yard and also the chicken coup. I didn’t have any particular arrangement in mind, but I’m really happy with how the paths look, both oriented to one side but with the overall circle shape of the pit maintained.

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I built up to mounds on either side of the circle and planted them with wildflower seeds. It’s all rather brown right now but come July, my vision should be fully realized.

I’m a sucker for lighting, and these Costco solar lamps are pretty cool, in my opinion. If it wasn’t a school night, we’d be breaking this sucker in right now.

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Aside from fire pit construction, I planted a few Russian olive saplings and some tiny little hardy kiwis that I’m not sure will ever amount to much. I planted them at the base of my Japanese Alder and my Black Locust, two nitrogen fixing trees that will hopefully help the kiwis get going. I’m hoping the kiwis will climb right up the trees…though I’m a little worried they’ll choke out the trees if they get too vigorous. But it’s a technique described in forest gardening, so we’ll see how it goes.

I also did some general tidying up around the yard. There’s definitely a white trash vibe going on here with lots debris and other crap littered around the yard and porch after a long, snowy winter.

We’re slated for a bit of cool down this week, but I’m full speed ahead towards spring. Bring on the green!

Spring Project Progress

I wasn’t planning on really progressing so rapidly with the projects I talked about in my previous post, but we’re in the midst of some beautiful warm weather, and with they days getting longer I have a bit of time to chip away when I get home from work in the afternoon.

Last weekend I took care of the fence. I had disassembled it during the week, which wasn’t too much work. I was a bit worried when I saw the termites had gotten into the wooden posts that previously held up the fence. Hopefully now that it’s up off the ground I won’t have that problem…

I used these brackets to attach 2×4 uprights to the top of the retaining wall. On the plus side, they are really easy to use and don’t require drilling into concrete; the 2 screws just tighten and push a metal plate against the wall until it’s nice and snug. On the negative side, the screws that came with the brackets stripped really easily when I tried to really crank them. So the jury is out on whether this is a viable way to build a fence.

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I reused all the old 1x4s from the previous fence, except for where I extended it. Obviously I haven’t painted yet. I’ll give the whole fence a fresh coat or two in the next few weeks.

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Here’s the whole shebang.

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Next up were the raised beds. When I first made my garden I used driftwood that I scavenged from the beach. It’s all pretty rotten now, so it was time for a revamp. The raised beds I built mean less planting surface area than I had before, but there were a lot of places in the old bed that were hard to reach and thus didn’t get planted anyway. It normally doesn’t look this crappy, but I had already started ripping apart the driftwood before I remembered to take a picture.

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Tada…three simple raised beds with lots of space to move around. I reseeded the pathways with white clover which will fill in nicely. But for now, it’s all pretty brown.

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The beds are 2 meters long by 1 meter wide.

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And finally, I’ve started working on the fire pit area. Here’s the old mess. There’s a pile of brush from all the winter damage to my trees and plants, along with all the rotten fence posts. I’ll burn all that in the new fire pit.

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I had a lot of extra soil after making the raised beds, and I’ll use that to make some nice raised contours around the fire pit. I’m still working out what to plant in them.

Today I got all of the grass removed and graded the ground. I also roughly placed the stones for the fire pit. I’ll probably just use construction gravel around  the fire pit. It’s really cheap — only about 200 yen for a 20 kg bag — and looks decent enough. So that’s this weekend’s project.

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Once I finish up the fire pit, I need to do a general yard cleaning. It’s a total mess, if you can’t tell. But I’ll have it looking sweet soon, and can’t wait for things to start getting green. Spring fever is raging.

Spring Projects

Mercifully, the snow has mostly melted in my garden, revealing some pretty extensive damage. While I think most plants will be salvageable, pretty much everything sustained some level of damage. I haven’t gone out with my saw and pruners yet to trim everything into shape, but will do that soon.

In the meantime, I’ve been brainstorming a few different projects that I’m excited to get working on over the next few weeks.

The most pressing job is to mend my fence, since it’s what keeps the chickens in the yard. I built this fence when we first moved into our house four years ago. I used untreated pine posts, and they are now rotten to the point that one section of fence fell down in high wind recently, and other sections are not far behind.

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I found some brackets at the home center that mount on top of the concrete retaining wall, and I found them for even cheaper online and have ordered a bunch. I’ll replace the posts with pressure treated 2X4s that fit into the brackets, and I can recycle the 1X4s that make up the bulk of the fence. There are a couple of reasons I like this design. It will surely last longer since the wood won’t be sitting in the ground. Also, I’m moving the fence outward and up on top of the retaining wall, so I’ll pick up a little more space in the garden. And finally, it will eliminate the gap that currently exists between the ground and the lowest part of the fence, which the crafty chickens keep finding their way through. I’ve currently got a bunch of netting there blocking their exit, but it’s ugly and not totally chicken/predator proof.

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I’ve decided that I’ll also extend the fence so that it runs the entire length of the retaining wall. Originally I had a gate between the house and where the tall portion of the fence currently ends to keep my small children from wandering too far. I never did like out abruptly the fence ends, and eventually I built a low section purely for aesthetics, but I’m not crazy about it either. So I’m biting the bullet and finally fixing it for good.

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Once the fence is done, I want to build some raised beds for growing vegetables. I currently use a lot of driftwood that I scavenged from the beach, but after a few years a lot of it is pretty rotten. I really like the look and design I came up with using the driftwood, but it’s time to try something else. I’ll use some cheap, rough-cut cedar posts that they sell at the home center. The beds will be two meters long and about a meter wide, so I’ll build three or four depending on how much space I have. I haven’t actually done any measuring yet to see how many will fit, but it’ll look something like this:

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There are a few benefits to using raised beds. I have white clover planted in my footpaths, and it always seems to find its way between the spaces in the driftwood and into the vegetables beds, which is not desirable since it’s a pain to weed. The cedar posts should keep the white clover out of the beds. Also, I’m going to need to put nets around the beds to keep the chickens from eating everything, and the raised beds will be simpler to net off while still allowing easy access for humans than my current setup.

Finally, I want to retool my lawn/bbq space/fire pit. The lawn has taken a beating this winter and I’ve been stewing on the idea of replacing it with durable ground covers or other crops that will be more beneficial than just grass. I’ve got a pretty low opinion of grass since it adds nothing to the forest garden ecosystem, but it does feel nice underfoot during the summer. But as I said, it’s kind of a mess, and my fire pit is a bit of disaster as well, so something needs to be done.

First, I’m going move the fire pit over so it’s more in the center of the current lawn. I would love to put a patio around it using large stone slabs, but that could get pricey, and I’m trying to do this on the cheap. I also considered pouring a concrete slab myself, but I don’t want anything that permanent. The cheapest option is gravel, which I’m not wild about, but it could work.

I should have some extra soil after building the raised beds, so I’m also thinking about make a few beds around the perimeter of the fire pit sitting area and planting wildflowers. I like the idea of sitting around the fire surrounded by fragrant flowers on a nice summer night, and those will also attract beneficial insects into the garden. It should end up looking something like this:

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I’ll detail these projects more as they go along. I might get started on the fence next weekend, or maybe a little sooner if time permits.

By the way, I’ve been recording some music lately. If you’re interested, you can listen to it HERE.

Thanks for reading!

Forest Garden Year 3

Wow, I ended up going the whole summer and deep into winter without updating this blog! Apologies to those who might have been regular readers, or at least as regular as can be given the infrequency with which I check in here. I have, however, been producing my podcast pretty consistently. You can click on the link/banner thingy to the right of this page if you’re interested in listening to that.

We’ve been receiving an extraordinary amount of snow this winter, and being cooped up in the house has had a few effects. First of all, I’m worried about all the damage the snow is doing to my young forest garden. I’ve also started to yearn for warmer days, or at least warm enough to melt the snow and allow me to work on some of the infrastructure projects that I have in mind. Going through my garden pictures from over the summer has really intensified that feeling. But all the idle time means I have finally gotten around to doing a yearly update of garden progress. I’m three years in to my forest garden project now, and a lot of the trees and other plantings are really starting to fill in. Although I always end up finding more plants to cram into the garden, I think at this point that all of my major canopy plantings are in the ground. I’d like to give everything else a year or two to establish itself and then see where I might have room for more. But as I said, that is probably wishful thinking since my eyes always light up when I find something new (or at least heavily discounted) at the home center.

So here are a bunch of pictures in no particular order, with varying degrees of explanation.

Here’s and overview of the garden from my neighbor’s yard.

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In the garden.

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This is the front corner of the garden, where my small pond is located.

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The side yard.

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Echinacea in full bloom.

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Loquat, surround by several colors of yarrow, among other things.

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Bee balm, the coolest looking and best smelling flower in my garden.

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The ‘pond,’ after some rain, which is the only time it has water. The cattails have taken marvelously.

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A beautiful, edible, green mess.

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A guild built around a pear tree. Clover, creeping thyme, bill berry, an assortment of flowers and some other things that I can’t remember at the moment.

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The chickens are all doing well, albeit not getting much free ranging time since we’re buried under several feet of snow. This is from early summer, when they weren’t laying eggs yet. They’re all a bit bigger now, and laying pretty much every day despite the dark winter months.

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I expanded their run back in the fall, and I’m glad I did considering how much time the hens have to spend in there over the winter.

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Fast forward a few months…

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This is the most snow we’ve received in Ishikawa (and the Hokuriku region in general) in about 30 years. It’s beautiful, but causing quite a bit of chaos in my garden and with life in general. We’ve had a bit of thaw, and as the snow melts it’s uncovering a lot of damage to my young trees. I’m trying not to worry about it too much since there’s nothing I can do about it at the moment. Hopefully nothing is beyond repair come springtime.

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As I mentioned, I’ve got a few projects in mind once the snow melts. I need to do some fence repairs, since a section fell down due to rot. I also want to make some proper raised vegetable beds. The driftwood that I originally used is beginning to rot, so I want to use something that will last a bit longer and can be made a bit more chicken proof, since they eat everything green in sight. I’m also thinking of doing something with my lawn around the fire pit — some kind of patio, and possibly replacing the rest of the lawn with a durable ground cover. I’ll write about these projects in more detail once I’m actually doing them.

Until then…stay warm. (And listen to my podcast!)

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