Tuesday, August 23, 2011

We Have Moved!...

Quaking Aspen is now on hiatus as an active permaculture demonstration site. I have moved to San Diego to start a new urban permaculture site called Higher Elevation Permaculture.  Check it out for ongoing activity and garden progress.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Water Wise Garden Award

This year Leah and I decided to enter our garden in the Flagstaff Garden Competition. There were two main categories: Native Plant and Water Wise Garden. Having not irrigated our garden with fresh city water since 2007, we felt like we had something to offer. I guess the judges did as well since we won the Water Wise Garden Award this year!

This past Sunday we had a garden open house with over 100 people stopping in throughout the afternoon to check out our abundant edible oasis and to see our rainwater and greywater harvesting systems in use.

I think most people that come to a "water-wise" garden in the southwestern US assume that it is covered in gravel and just uses cactus and other dry loving plants. The Xeriscape notion is often associated with "Zero-scape" as the gravel covered moonscape demonstrates. What we have done in our gardens is the opposite. Rather than intentionally creating hot and dry micro-climates, we have naturally created moist and cooler ones. Through simple strategies we are able to harvest much of the 140,000 gallons of precipitation a year in addition to about 900 gallons a month of household greywater. Who needs a municipal or well water supplied landscape when we already have an abundance of free and ecologically sourced supplies ready for the using!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Winged Blessings of Summer Flowers

Mid summer is here in Flagstaff with or with out the monsoon rains. Walking through the garden yesterday, I couldn't help but notice the abundance of flowering plants. I began counting and ended up with close to 35 different flowering species of plant in our 1/4 acre oasis. Many of these make wonderful additions to salads and are a huge boon for native pollinators.

It is amazing to stop and just listen and watch the flurry of insect activity flocking to each bloom. Birds as well swarm to our yard in search of food. While many of our neighbors put out bird feeders, many of which are filled with potentially invasive weeds, we plant our feeders. Cut-leaf coneflower, for instance is our gold finch feeder. Penstemons and many tubular mint flowering plants like agastache are our hummingbird feeders. With each year, I watch and learn what birds seem to prefer what flowers.

I love the addition of wild birds to the garden. Sure they are great to watch, but I also appreciate what they do for my garden. In return for providing them a little habitat our gardens recieve free pest control. If one insect such as grasshoppers get out of control we seem to have a population of birds that work to eat them thereby keeping things under control. In addition to pest control these birds also bring with them fertilizer in the form of their manure, which they kindly spread around the very plants that they are attracted to minimizing my need to bring in any soil suppliments. Free pest control and fertilizer how can I afford not to welcome these winged blessings.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Winter Gardening

I find something satisfactory about receiving 2 feet of snow yesterday and then entering our new greenhouse today only to find all our plants thriving. Outside the temperature was hovering around 29 degrees, but inside the greenhouse this afternoon the temperature was over 70 degrees. This is the first year with our greenhouse in operation. We have been outfitting it to grow an abundance of edible food and remain above freezing without additional heat all during the winter.

To grow food we have a couple of planters that we filled with cold hardy crops. So far we have been eating radishes, salad greens, chard, mountain spinach, broccoli raab, and a few herbs like mint and cilantro. To keep things going we have been starting a bunch of new seeds of kale, lettuce, arugala, mtn. spinach, and more fresh cooking herbs. Soon we will begin starts for the ourdoor garden.

Without extra heat we have been choosing crops that can handle the cooler night time temperatures. But to moderate the extreme cold of the night we have added a few extra features into the greenhouse. First off, the greenhouse is insulated on the east, west, and north sides to buffer the cold and keep the warmth in. In addition to the insulation we have added a lot of thermal mass. The walls have a thick layer of adobe mud over the insulation to heat up during the day and radiate the heat back at night. Along with the adobe walls we have added a lot of water storage: (2) 40 gallon barrels and (4) 20 gallon plastic totes. Together this worked well to passively heat our greenhouse at night, but we found we could still improve upon it.

During the day the temperatures were heating up to over a 100 degrees on a sunny day. So we added a cheap bathroom vent fan connected to a cheap thermostat. Now when the temperature gets over 65 degrees we suck the hot air from the top of the greenhouse through some coils in the 40 gallon water barrels. This acts to both cool the inside temperature and store the heat in the water to be released at night. With the vent system, I have found that the water barrels can heat up to 60-70 degrees on sunny day even when the outside temperature is close to freezing.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Greenhouse, Garlic, and an Unexpected Easter Egg Hunt

The weather has been great this weekend and so Leah and I made some time to work in the garden. We have just planted up the first greens and radishes in the greenhouse. This is our first year trying to grow throughout the winter. We will see how that goes. I will post some info on our passive solar greenhouse setup later.

I love garlic and so today as we do every year at about this time we planted our garlic. We are growing 2 varieties this year: Chesnook Red and one that I can't remember the name of, but it has only 4 cloves to the bulb and is super big and easy to peel which are two qualities I love in garlic. We should have a bumper crop of garlic next June...about 100 or so bulbs.

For the last few months we have been concerned with one of our new hens. We raised her from a chick-hood and she should have been laying eggs beginning in August or September. For months now we have been wondering if something is wrong with her or if somehow we had a feminine rooster, but today while raking up some straw in the chicken yard I noticed an impromptu nest located on top of one our compost piles with 8 bluish-green eggs in it. Finally some eggs. Now if I can only train her to lay in the real nesting boxes.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thoughts on Post Frost Garden Mulching

The hard frosts of Fall are here and much of the gardening work revolves around dreams of next years garden. By now in Flagstaff, our gardens are done for the season (Sedona and the Verde Valley still have a bit of time). Our focus is on putting the garden to sleep. In the veggie garden, chop down the remaining produce to ground level. Add a layer of finished compost if you have some. Then top everything with a good layer of organic mulch (leaves, pine needles, straw, etc.) and water it all in. Don't be afraid to add 4 inches or more of mulch and compost. For trees, shrubs, and perennials you can skip the compost and just add the mulch layer.

Compost and mulch are the work horses of an ecological garden. They feed the microbes in the soil which in turn feed the plants. Without these soil microbes we would have no plants so it is important to keep those little critters happy. If we want the healthiest plants around then it only makes sense to ensure that they are well fed. This means not raking up and throwing away fallen leaves. Instead just rake them around existing trees and shrubs or into areas where they can at least compost. Make sure that no organic matter is wasted from your yard. Better yet collect your neighbors leaves if they are throwing them away and use those in your garden too! I have been known to circle my neighborhood this time of year and collect over one hundred bags of leaves to use in my garden. Organic Mulch has many more benefits including moderating winter temperatures and conserving soil moisture. Adding mulch now also allows the organic matter some time to begin to decay into nutrient rich soil humus before next years growing season.

Happy Mulching!

Leaves One Year Later

Books for further reference:

Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis
The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book by Ruth Stout
Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway (Check out the chapter on soil)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fall Food Harvest

The end of the growing season is here and at Quaking Aspen we are working to harvest and process some of the September abundance. While we have only a 3 month growing season many of the plants we will store through the winter until things begin growing next year. Today Leah and I bundled and hung to dry huge quantities of herbs. Some of which are for teas such as Catnip, Lemon Balm, and Agastache and other such as Basil, Oregano, Sage, Chives, Thmye, and Tarragon for cooking. It was also time to harvest potatoes, winter squash, rhubarb, horseradish, cucumbers, sunflowers, and the last of our tomatoes and eggplant.

This year we were too busy to spend much time in the garden at all. I think I put in less than 10 hours planting, watering (and we water by hand), mulching/composting, etc. So while our harvest may not be huge this year, I am always amazed by the what we are able to harvest. It seems like every year the garden begins to produce even more with less work as the perennials begin to fill in. That is part of the beauty of the lazy approach to gardening adopted by permaculture. While we did spend much time establishing our perennial gardens in the early years we now can step back and relax knowing that if we take off for a few weeks or a month in the middle of summer, our gardens will be fine and still produce a harvest of something. With a little extra work we can produce much more.

Perhaps next year Leah and I will have some time to really plant up a bumper veggie garden. And let's also hope for a good fruit year...actually any fruit would be good.