Monthly Archives: March 2009


I took this pile of scrap wood (the old railing from the back patio)…

… and turned it into THIS: a new bench for the garden! Really!

Just to show you it’s real, here’s the bench in it’s raw form. You can still see the old paint on the side rails and stretchers. The legs were made from the posts and the rest was cut from the top and bottom railings that held the trellising. I had just enough usable material.

I haven’t done a woodworking project in a long time. It’s tremendously satisfying. Now I can’t wait to see what I can do with all the material I’m taking from Jan’s old house.


Stop touching me!

At this time of year, before the big trees leaf out, it’s the perfect time to examine competition between trees. The picture to the right is a prime example. Look at the three tall trees. The tree on the left is a walnut tree, big and shapely. The tree on the far right is a pine tree, straight and tall. The pine tree in the middle is the interesting one. It looks like it’s pulling it’s branches on the left side towards the trunk. You can almost hear it saying “He’s touching me; stop touching me”, like two children in the back seat of a car. Even the trunk has grown a slight curve, away from the walnut. The walnut is unaffected. The tree branches mirror what’s happening underground. We can’t see it, but the roots are also growing away from the offending tree. The offense is chemical; substances exuded by the roots of the walnut tree to repel competitors.

I found another case involving a small Sycamore tree and a Black Locust sapling that I had planted too close. The sapling, after two years of growth, is leaning to the North, away from the Sycamore. Similarly a fruit tree in the back yard, near a Blackjack Oak, looks like it’s been trimmed to avoid contact with the oak branches. These two cases are likely caused by shading.

This is important information to keep in mind when planting new trees. In the case of the walnut, especially, careful research and experimentation has to be made before planting within the root zone of the tree. Some plants can tolerate the chemical onslaught, others can’t. Luckily an internet search yielded a good list of understory plants that tolerate juglone (the chemicals produced by Walnuts), so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. This will be critical as I develop our food forest, since we have 3 mature walnut trees.

Another new one!

Yesterday, while relaxing in the sunshine out front, I noticed a white butterfly flitting among the Spring Beauty flowers. The flight pattern was different from other white butterflies I’ve seen, so took a closer look. Sure enough it was a new one: a Falcate Orangetip. The males can’t be mistaken for anything else. It’s the only white butterfly in our area with orange wing tips. It’s not a big butterfly, so it’s easy to miss. Peter suggested I drop a coin near the flower so there’s some kind of scale. I’m pretty sure he was kidding.

Spring gardening

It’s early Spring now, and I’ve already planted beets, lettuce, leeks, spinach, carrots, broccoli raab and 2.5 pounds of fingerling potatoes. I’ve also been cleaning out the old gardens and spreading the new compost. My small orchard trees got their fair share of compost too. Recent inspection of the mature plum tree revealed lots of little plums growing. If we get some decent rain, we should have a good crop. It’s too soon to tell with the peaches, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The strawberry bed cleaned up nicely (photo), but I found a lot of the runners had escaped their protective confines.

So I transplanted all the runners, 24 of them, into one of the newly rebuilt beds. They took up half the bed. The deer have been in the yard at least once since I transplanted them, and they are unharmed. Dare I say the netting is working? It’s too soon to be confident after so many disasters. I am hopeful that strawberries will soon ripening. If not, my protected alpine strawberries in the back gardens are already flowering.

As you might expect, I’m running out of prepared growing space. The driveway garden will be converted to an insectary garden (a garden designed to attract beneficial insects) in preparation for the eventual arrival of a bee colony. So in the meantime, I need space for the summer crops: beans, corn, squash, peppers, basil, tomatoes and this year sesame. Therefore I’ve laid out three more gardens, one of which will hopefully be finished by April 15th for corn planting.

I used my Solar Pathfinder to make sure I had placed the gardens far enough from the Bradford pear to get a full day of sun from April through September. The frames are done, but as you can see, they’re on a slope, a 3 inch drop over 4 feet. I’m going to dig in the uphill side to level out the gardens, that way I won’t risk losing my irrigation water. Each garden will have a soaker hose and hoops. If you find a garden design that works in Bermuda Grass country, stick with it. This particular area of the yard, didn’t have much vegetative cover, so I don’t anticipate too much trouble. I’m going to overseed the walkways with clover and I made sure the walkways were wide enough for the mower.