Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New year, new blog site

I am continuing this blog on another site. To visit it, click here.
As this is my last post on this site I will simply put a few photos of our snow storm that came in quite unexpectedly yesterday.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A modest beginning

This is a bunch of grapes, not very big, kinda mildewy, and picked too late. The important thing is that it is the very first bunch of grapes from 4 Pinot Noir grape plants that I planted late last spring.

In just a couple more years we can expect to get enough grapes from these 4 vines to make a reasonable amount of wine. Maybe a dozen or two dozen bottles. Which will be more then enough to supply the happy hour on Wednesday afternoon with wine made right here at Rose Villa.

The grape vines I inherited down in the gardens produced 3 or 4 boxes of concord grapes, a couple boxes of purple seedless table grapes and 3 boxes of wine grapes. The wine grapes were taken into the Health Center and were cleaned up, their stems taken off and are now sitting in several 5 gallon containers to ferment.

It's hard to see in this photo, but the wine grape vine is in the middle. There are 6 grape vines in the space where no more then 4 should be planted. The middle vines tend to get covered and smothered by their neighbors. I will be taking at least 2 of the vines out next year, now that I know which is which I'm thinking it will be one of the Concorde grape vines and the vine next to what we think is the "Merlot" wine grape. Not the best solution but one that should give the "Merlot" vine more room to produce good grapes.

The rest of the garden is just about all done for the season, just some secondary broccoli and some kale left.

I will be leaving the broccoli, kale and Swiss chard in for the winter just to see if they can make it through to spring. The beans I planted amongst the kale is not doing well at all, too cold and not enough light I think, I will take it out this week.

Other wise the next big news is the greenhouse in the patio of the health center. It is finally finished and the growing benches installed ready to go to work. It's just too bad it's mid November, there is not a lot of planting and growing to be done now, but I will try to get something going.
To the right of the greenhouse you can just see the snow peas planted in the red pot, there is some arugula in another pot that is also still doing well. There is not much activity in the patio area this time of year, but maybe If I get some flowers going in the greenhouse I can "invite" the people to come out.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Where has all the broccoli gone?

It's the middle of October and the rains have come right on time. And as usual here in the Pacific Northwest the weather has changed from summer to winter like walking from a room labeled warm, sunny summer into a room marked rainy, cold and windy.

I've pulled the leather jacket from the back of the closet and found my rain gear and wool cap so I'm all ready for the 'other' season we have here. We only have two seasons here, sunny warm and dry and cool, wet and cloudy. But enough about the weather, what about the gardens I've been working on so hard this season?

Here's a couple of photos of the gardens at their height of the summer season. Just before the plants really started to produce. The list of what came out of the garden is just too long to put down here, I also neglected to weigh how much produce actually was produced so all I can say now is I took box after box of many different kinds of produce up to the residents produce market.

This a resident run market here at Rose Villa that goes on every Tuesday morning. All the produce (and flowers and baked goods) are donated by the people who live here, and of course from my gardens. There are no prices, just what ever you feel it's worth. And the proceeds go directly into the "Foundation". Which is a resident run financial group set up to help people who live here who have run out of money. So it's really a people helping people kind of thing.

For me it was a real eye opener when I took a box of maybe twenty heads of broccoli up to the market and it was sold within 7 minutes. That's when I realized that the "Tuesday Market" is more then a money making kind of thing but it is a way to get fresh food to people who would not ordinarily have access to fresh nutritious produce.

The lady that runs the produce market is in her mid 90's. And there are at least 2 other ladies that are helping her right now and are getting ready to take over when 'the boss' retires, if she ever does. Which means the produce market will go on next year and I'd better get planning for what to plant next year.

These last two photos are how the gardens look now. I've added fresh compost from the composting bins and dug it in to 'season' over the winter. I might also dig in leaves when they start falling. The pathways are covered with chippings from a fir tree that was taken down this summer. I've got some late season broccoli still growing, also some beans, peas, kale, spinach, arugula and swiss chard. These are experimental crops to see how late in the season I can still harvest fresh vegg.

One final update, I just picked 4 boxes of concord grapes and took them up to the main kitchen to be made into grape jelly. To be sold at the fall bazaar and concert next month, the proceeds of which will go the the 'Foundation".

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Natures astonding fecundity

I started out writing this months edition of my gardening blog by taking a camera down to the vegetable gardens here at Rose Villa, thinking to brag a bit on the produce being produced by the gardeners. Instead I found myself noticing the weeds growing along the edges of the gardens, in empty plots and in the gardens themselves. Everything from a common dandelion to weeds that, much to my shame, I have no idea their names.
In many cases it's only when you start looking up close that the real beauty of these plants starts to present itself.
Sometimes it seems that we gardeners make a huge mistake when we classify plants into useful, profitable and 'good' plants and those that have no useful or profitable quality's, the 'bad' plants. The weeds.

I'm sure that most of us have heard what the definition of a weed is; a plant in the wrong place. But what appears to us as the wrong place is only a human definition. To a plant any place it can find to live, put down roots and reproduce is the right place.

beautiful picture a single dandelion makes when it's growing in a rock wall on the edge of a garden. As a gardener I could spend my entire life trying to get a 'flower' to grow in a rock wall and look as beautiful as this totally randomly placed 'weed'.

What is not apparent as I look at the photos I've included here are the number and variety of honey bees, wasps and bumble bees that were working the garden area. I was walking through knee high weeds with hundreds of flying insects buzzing around my legs. It was a minor miracle that I didn't get one or two of them up my shorts. But they all seemed to be more interested in collecting nectar from the flowers of any plant that happened to be in front of them.

In the picture of the corn tassels its' a bit hard to see, but there were dozens of bees in this little corn patch, all of them busily working over the tassels. I could get really close to all the flying insects before they took any notice at all that I was around.

In fact, if you look closely at the photo of the green leaves you will see that it was much more dangerous for the bees then for me. That's a common garden spider wrapping up a freshly caught bee that wondered into his web.

This seems to be turning into a photo op kind of blog today so I will end with a last few photos of beautiful plants that just happened to be in the wrong place so are considered weeds.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Water that plant

How much water do plants need?

Everyone knows that plants need to be watered, and indeed one of the most asked questions of a gardener is how much should my plants be watered? To answer this question you have to know why plants need water and how do they use the water. That’s what I’d like to talk about today.

Photosynthesis is the answer. Simply put; photosynthesis is the process that goes on within the leaves of plants that uses water plus carbon dioxide plus sunlight to create plant sugars that plants then use to produce growth. It was people like Jan van Helmont in the mid 1600’s and Nicolas-Theodore de Sussare in 1796 and many others who, through scientific experimentation proved that without water, sunlight and carbon dioxide plants would not grow. The exact chemical and physical processes are still being discovered as plant scientists today work down through the cellular and molecular levels into the atomic levels of plants.

How the water gets from your hose into and throughout the plant is another interesting question. The answer is xylem and phloem. Just under the bark or outer layer of the stem or trunk of a plant is the cambium layer of cells that is made up of phloem cells on the outside and xylem cells on the inside. This is where water from your hose, packed with nutrients from the soil, and after being absorbed by the roots flows up the xylem cells to the photosynthesis ‘factories’ in the leaves and then down through the phloem cells as sugar packed ‘sap’ to all the rest of the plant.

Carbon dioxide comes from the air, sunlight of course from the sun and water comes from either your hose or the clouds. We can’t really control how much carbon dioxide the plant gets and we can control sunlight only by providing shade for our plants, but we can control how much water our plants get, particularly in the summer time.

Here's two photos of tomatoes, they all were planted at the same time, but the ones on the right haven't been watered nearly as much as the ones on the left. Wilted and even burned leaves, lack of growth and vigor, much lighter green coloring are all signs of the plant not getting enough water. The drought affected plants are sacrificing leaves, branches and color to produce tomatoes in a desperate effort to reproduce themselves. And when the season is over the healthy well hydrated tomatoes on the right will have produced a much larger crop of fruit.

Think of it this way, plants that produce a lot of growth during the summer, like tomatoes, corn, other vegetables, annual flowers, and plants that have just been planted and haven’t had time to grow lots of roots will need lots of water, at least an inch or even more of water a week. But trees and well established shrubs which have huge root systems that can get to large amounts of water deep underground will not need nearly as much additional water from your hose. And the hotter and drier it is the more water those shallow rooted, newly planted shrubs, veggies, and flowers will need.
Here's a trick you can use to tell when your flowers and veggies need water; poke a hole in the ground near the plant with your finger, down past the first knuckel, if the ground is dry all the way down it's time to water. For shrubs that have been in the ground more then a year; if the lawn around the shrub is dry, water the shrub as you water the lawn. For major trees; dont worry about it, you couldn't get the water down deep enough to do any good anyway.

So here it is deep summer and those veggies and flowers and newly planted shrubs will need all the water you can give them, and the well established shrubs should be all right as long as the lawn around them is alright and those big established trees,with their huge and deep root systems can fend for themselves.
See you next time.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I've heard it said that if the corn is knee high by the 4th of July it will be a good year, well, my corn is taller then I am so I guess it's going to be a great year. That's a second planting of corn in the beds on the left and some peas in the middle. The tall corn will be for our annual Luau in about 3 weeks. I'm hoping that I can get some ears of corn off the stalks before we have to use them around the pig when we put it in the ground to cook. It's already tasseling out now so we might just get some ears of fresh corn to put with the pig.

The tomato plants that were given to us by a local gardening club are not quite a forest. I may have planted them too close together! It will be tough to get in a harvest all the tomatoes, there are already zillions of small green tomatoes throughout the tomato forest. The only problem so far is that I suspect the "Supice" variety on this end of the bed may be slightly susceptible to leaf wilt diseases. That's verticilium and fusiarium blight to be exact. But so far "Supice" is only showing slight wilting, not bad so I will try to leave it till time to start harvesting tomatoes.

Some of the onions the kids planted back in April have become really big, and some have stayed small. All from the same bag so it must be something in the soil that is keeping the small ones from getting really huge. Just this week half a dozen of the smaller ones bolted and started to form flower heads so I pulled them. They are really flavorful and strong. The kids will be back next week for a summer gardening program and I cant wait to show them what happened to the onions they planted.

In moments that I wasn't planting and harvesting and watering and weeding the the veggie garden I was part of the Dragon Boat crew for the big Rose Festival Dragon Boat Races.
The photo on the left is one of our practices when it was pouring down rain, if it's not raining we aren't training I always say. I'm not sure if the rest of the team is sharing that sentiment. The reason I'm not on the boat is because I buggered my shoulder up a while back and had to stay on shore for a while.
We didn't win but we did have a great time, plus we are the only dragon boat team with their own cheerleaders. One of the most exciting times was when right at the start of the final race we got broadsided by the boat next to us, no serious injuries but it did take us out of the running for that race. That's racing.

I will stop now and leave you with a photo of a rose from our rose garden. This one is "Raven", a shrub rose. One of my favorites.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Problems, problems, problems!

Well, not really problems so much as learning experiences. And I will tell you, it has taken quite a bit of courage to admit that after more then 35 years in the landscape maintenance business, and after believing I was really quite an impressive gardener and horticultural expert that I just don't know all that much about how to grow food.

Just because I know what an Acer palmatum dissectum Atropurpureum is, how to plant and care for it doesn't mean I know what is the best tomato to plant on this particular hillside just south of Milwaukie. Let me tell you, when I went to Fred Meyers garden center to pick up 14 tomato plants, one for each one of my kids gardening group, which seemed like such a simple thing to do, I ran head on into the cruel reality's of the tomato fanciers world. There must have been several dozen different varieties of tomatoes! How was a poor fumble fingered lamebrain like me to know the difference between 'Big Boy' and 'Willamette" tomatoes?

Well, I did manage to get 4 or 5 different varieties for my 14 kids. But then came time to plant the little things. Does anyone else know about the unofficial 'rule' about not planting tomatoes before Mothers Day? One of the kinder and sweeter of the other gardeners down in the gardens told me about this planting 'rule'; but for her I would have put the tender little tomato starts in a good two weeks early, and who knows what would have happened then? But I did get them in, even scrounged some tomato cages to put around them, but I am beginning to wonder if the patio variety tomato really needs that huge cage? Time will tell I suppose.

Oh, and need I say it? My tomatoes are some of the smallest in the entire garden area!

And then there are the potato plants. I managed to find some seed potatoes at one of the garden centers about a month ago, they were in a big bag and all of them were already sprouting out and looking really strange. But I handed them to several of the kids to plant one fine Wednesday, and away they went, digging holes sticking seed potatoes in. And yes I did insist that they plant them with the sprouting parts pointed up, although I'm pretty sure at least one of the kids didn't listen to that little piece of advice. And now I'm finding strange vacancies in several places in the potato rows and several suspiciously potato-y looking plants in rows where they aren't supposed to be any potatoes.

And of course one of the other gardeners here in the garden area planted his potatoes at least one or two weeks after we planted ours, and his are at least twice the size of ours! I have some serious potato envy.

But it hasn't been all troubles and tribulations. We harvested the radishes and arugula that the kids planted when then first started coming over and that was a big success. Each of the kids took home a handful of radishes and a handful of arugula. That was a really good day, we even got to take a huge amount of radish and arugula up to the main RV kitchen. What the kitchen boss, Brian was going to do with at least several hundred radishes is not my problem. Did anyone have any of that puff pastry thing stuffed with cheese and our home grown arugula? I tried several and they were wonderful. Thanks Brian.

And then one fine day I noticed that there was some rhubarb in the plot where my grapes are planted; will wonders never cease. I checked around and found out it was time to harvest the succulent stalks, so I did and left them with the kitchen boss Brian. I ran out the back door of the kitchen before he had time to do anything more then mumble something about rhubarb sauce. I'll have to check back with him later to see what he did with the rhubarb.

I picked and ate a strawberry from one of the plants down in the gardens this week, I'm not that fond of strawberries but somehow this one was extra good. More are coming up ripe every day, I can see now that one of my mistakes was not planting enough strawberry plants.They are coming ripe just about as fast as I can eat them, so there may not be many that make it up to the kitchen.

Speaking of strawberries; there are some strawberries in the Health Center patio area that are almost ready to be picked as well as the blueberries. The fig tree and the apricot tree are doing great as well as the herbs. If you happen to go out in the patio area however, stay away from the blue flowered ceanothus, it's really attracting bees right now.

We just recieved a donation of 108 tomato plants and various other pepper plants. We now have a grand total of 94 tomato plants planted down in the garden, I'll be putting 6 tomato plants into the health center patio area and I have 22 tomato plants left over. I've done the math on this and it's a bit scary; if each tomato plant produces 100 tomatos we could have aroung 9,400 tomatos this summer! We may be sneaking bags of tomatos onto neighbors front poarches at night just to get rid of them.

But that's enough of my problems

Happy gardening to you