Posts Tagged With: fruit

My Miniature 100-Acre Wood (Really, Really Miniature)

I’ve been kicking around the idea of a mini-food forest in the front garden ever since I read Gaia’s Garden several years ago. I already have two dwarf apples, a dwarf cherry, and a large circular vegetable garden out there, so I’ve made a start.

A central part of the food forest idea is creating multi-use beds (“guilds”) around each of the trees. I’d plant daffodils or other bulbs around the dripline to help hold back encroaching weeds. Inside that line, I’d add plants that serve specific functions:

  • I’ve finally tracked down a source for comfrey, so I’d plant several of those. I can slash them down several times a season to act as mulch for the tree, use some as fodder for the chickens, and make compost tea from the leaves. Plus they fix nitrogen and add other nutrients to the soil whenever you cut them back.
  • To lure in beneficial insects, I’d add some dill plants (also good for pickles) and yarrow (a drought-tolerant butterfly plant). Fennel does the same thing.
  • Bright nasturtium are edible and reputed to repel certain insects. Apparently, you can use the seeds to deworm your chickens, which is knowledge I hope never, never to have to use.
  • Parsely is edible; accumulates potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron in the soil; and is a valuable food for butterfly caterpillars. I’ve also heard that the juice is supposed to repel mosquitoes, although I’ve never tried it myself.
  • Clover provides blooms for bees and a green, nitrogen-fixing ground cover.

This is a very basic guild, and it’s a tiny one, since it has to fit under a dwarf tree. If I were designing for a full-sized apple tree, I’d add some small shrubs (currants, maybe, which do well in shade), and possibly some sort of vine. (For more about guilds, I highly recommend Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden.)

The existing vegetable bed and fruit trees (including this dwarf cherry) are just the beginning of my permaculture-inspired grand design.

The existing vegetable bed and fruit trees (including this dwarf cherry) are just the beginning of my permaculture-inspired grand design.

Oh, I had such plans. The three fruit trees would be surrounded by guilds, and in between, I’d fit in honey berry (a vaguely blueberry-like fruiting plant), salvia to lure in insect-eating birds, and lots of zinnias and sunflowers for color. And because the average food forest is a bit wild-looking for my aesthetic tastes, I’d create tidy mulch paths through the garden and around the existing vegetable bed. And that spot directly in front of the house where I ripped the lilacs out last year? It’s a deep-mulch bed waiting to happen.

My friends, this is what winter gardening delusion looks like. It sounds great to replace all the grass with actual garden. And if I plan it correctly, I can keep the long-term maintenance to a minimum (that’s one of the benefits of a food forest). But my 30′ x 40′ front garden is still a lot of space to cover and keep weeded and mulched, especially as I’ll be doing it after full days in other people’s gardens.

And then I did the math. Say the mature width of my dwarf apple trees is 12′ (a 6′ radius around the trunk):

Area = π(r)^2, so (3.14)(6)(6)= roughly 113 sq feet per tree. That is a BIG bed, at least if you’re trying to fill three of them with new plants on a budget.

Even experienced gardeners often take on more than is smart. So this year, before I stick a shovel in the ground, I’m breaking these projects down into a timeline. This year, I will do one, maybe two of the tree guilds. And if I’m really ambitious, I may start sheet mulching that path around the vegetable garden.

But mark my words. That turf grass is going down.

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May Day and the Berry Bash

Happy May Day! Traditionally, Beltane is a celebration of fertility, which makes sense, since the dandelions are reproducing with wild abandon in my garden even as we speak. I spent an entire day in the garden this weekend, taking advantage of the window of beautiful weather; it was immediately followed by yet another rainstorm. Good for the transplants, less good for my mood.

Tristar day-neutral strawberries. Photo from

But I had sun, glorious sun for one day, and I devoted it to the berries. I love berries–strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, you name it–and I do not love the prices charged for berries in the stores. Unfortunately, last year’s drought took a toll on my strawberry patch, frying about half the crowns. I decided to consolidate the Honoeye strawberries that had survived, then plant some TriStar day-neutral strawberries in the cleared patch. I figured I could knock it out in a couple of hours and then move on to the vegetable garden, which was in serious need of attention.

Yeah, right.

First I had to remove all the weeds that had infested the patch and re-edge it. All those dead plants had cleared enough space for a fine crop of dandelions and grass. Then I started transplanting the survivors. After about two hours, I’d done all I could stand. I hated to throw the extras in the compost, but a passing neighbor took them off my hands. (Pass my house at the right time, and you’re likely to go home with tomatoes, plant divisions, or half-a-dozen eggs).

With my patch now weed-free, I thought I should freshen it up with compost. I took the fork to my old compost pile, moved the top half of stuff to my new compost pile (behind the garage, enclosed entirely by materials I already had in the garage, I’m prouder of it than is entirely sensible) to uncover the finished compost, hauled out the window frame covered with hardware cloth (Mr. Dan and Mr. Roy made it to replace the window glass in the garage during the summer so the chickens don’t get heatstroke), slapped it over the wheelbarrow, dumped compost onto it, and sifted the compost (please do not tell Mr. Dan and Mr. Roy I repurposed the window as a compost riddle).

I tell you, that compost was beautiful stuff. I’ve never sifted compost before, but it was a lot easier to work into the bed than the chunky stuff I usually get out of the pile. I hauled it to the strawberry bed, raked it in, and planted 50 Tristar berries. It took forever.

In other berry news, I planted a Northland blueberry in a raised bed in the back garden. Sure, I’ve killed 5 blueberries so far, but I’ve got to hit on the right combo sooner or later, right? So now I’m trying raised beds where I can control the pH better than traditional beds in the ground. I’ve amended the hell out of them with sulfur, but I still need to test for pH. I have a fancy dohickey I got ages ago when I worked at S&H that’s supposed to tell me the pH; I just found it in the back of all my seed starting stuff. Go figure.

I had hoped to get the raspberry supports up, but ran out of time. I did get a second crop of potatoes in though. Now, if I can get one more decent spring day in the garden, I can weed the veg garden and clean up the front-of-house border.

Tra-la-tra-la, the lusty month of May!

Categories: In the garden, The garden year | Tags: | 1 Comment

We shared some skills!

Thanks to everyone who came to the Irvington Skill Share ‘Feast’ival today! I talked to a lot of great people–so many, in fact, my voice is demanding a cup of tea and a rest.

For those who want it, I’ve attached my edible landscaping handout to this post. Edible landscaping handout compressed

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In a Jam


CAS and I made our first attempt at jam this weekend.

CAS at least had some experience with jam. Her mom and grandmother used to can, and she remembered the hot and steamy kitchen, although not much in the way of specifics. But her mom relayed the recipe over the phone, so between that and the instructions from the fine folks at Ball, we were ok.

I was concerned we might not have enough berries. We had harvested a lot last weekend, and Amy F harvested so for her family in mid-week.

Yeah, not really a problem. In about an hour, we picked 5 mixing bowls worth of berries. See left.


2 quarts crushed strawberries

6 cups sugar

Bring slowly to boil, then boil until thickened, about 40 minutes. Ladle into clean, hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace, then process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

The first step was separating out the fresh eating berries from the ones we wanted for jam. Even after I pulled out a mixing bowl's worth to eat fresh, we still spent another hour or so hulling and crushing berries. I didn't have a potato masher, so I used my hands. (Strawberry juice looks luridly like blood, especially when you're crushing berries through your fingers. "Out, damned spot! Out, I say!")

We needed 2 quarts (8 cups) worth of crushed berries to make 8 jars of jam. We had 5 quarts of crushed berries. There was a short intermission while we bought more sugar and made a detour to the Tractor Supply Company.


Back at the Farmstead, we added 15 cups of sugar to our 20 cups of fruit (8 cups berries: 6 cups sugar, for those of you who have issues with fractions). The jam was supposed to boil for 40 minutes, but between the pink foam that nearly boiled over the top of the stock pot, the mucking around trying to get the temperature right to keep it at a boil but not a boil over, and the fact we weren't quite sure what "thickened" meant (syrup-like? custard-like? jello-like?) we probably kept it on the stove for more like an hour and a half. 

We washed the jars in the dishwasher, then kept them in there to stay hot (boiling hot jam + cool jar = explosion). We kept the lids in a pot of hot (not boiling) water on the stove. We put six jars in the canning rack, filled them to within 1/4 inch of the top, wiped off the rims with a wet dishcloth (by the way, I now have about 6 towels and 8 washcloths that will never be the same again), dropped the lid on, and tightened the bands.


The rack with jars went into the canner to boil gently for 15 minutes. As we brought them out, we heard several satisfying pops as the vaccuum sealed the lids. We moved them over to my newly cleaned seed-starting bookcase to cool.

We did three batches of jars, plus 2 that we kept as freezer jam/ice cream topping to use in the next few weeks. (We had it over ice cream last night; it was fabulous.)

Its true that it was a fair amount of work, although we had fun. Plus it's much more fun with two people, not to mention faster.

Mainly, though, that's about 5 quarts of fresh berries that might have gone to waste (we used the not-so-perfect ones in the jam) that CAS and I now have for eating at home and impressing people with as gifts.

 And strawberry season isn't even over yet!

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You know that scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie steps on his glasses and whispers "Oh, no."? That was me today. I was getting out of the tub, and CRACK–right down the nosepiece. I loved those glasses. Oh well. I have two pair, and I've had those particular frames for about 8 years, so it's not the end of the world. But yeah, I felt exactly like Ralphie.

Also, have you noticed that A Christmas Story has quote appropriate for every occasion? Try it. Someone pissing you off? "Sons of bitches–Bumpuses!" Concerned that your purchase might not be of high enough quality? "No, that's them balsams." Smack your hand with a hammer? "Fuuuuudgge." We get a lot of mileage out of A Christmas Story at Spotts Lawn & Garden.

Thanks to our early, warm, wet spring, the strawberries are in a bit early. CAS and Calvin came over today to help pick. We did the same thing last weekend, and there are no signs we're going to run out any time soon. At left, today's harvest. Some went home with CAS and CAlvin, and Gin and I had some for dinner. There's still a huge bowl in the fridge.
Depending on how many we have next weekend, CAS and I will make our first foray into jam-making. Don't worry, I have a fire extinguisher.
Calvin is a surprisingly helpful farmhand. For a three-year-old, he's got focus. Today we loaded some salvaged wood (you'll remember that I scavenged wood for the chicken coop that did not meet Mr. Dan and Mr. Roy's standards, so it's been in the garage for a year) from the garage into CAS's car. She and Calvin can make their own growing beds, and I can stop tripping over the *&%*#-ing wood every time I go out to feed the chickens. Calvin also fed chickens and collected eggs today, as well as harvesting strawberries. And we pulled some radishes.

Last week, we collected eggs and strawberries, and he helped me clean out the chicken run. Yes, I am not above exploiting a child's curiosity to move chicken poop. He had his own toy shove and a small rake I gave him. We loaded all the old bedding into a wheelbarrow, dumped it next to the compost heap, and spread new bedding. Other than his deep-seated desire to get close to the chickens, which none of the ladies will even consider, he was great help. I figure by the time he's five and the apple trees are bearing, he'll be the best unpaid labor around.  
At left, Calvin takes a break after the strawberry harvest. That's crushed strawberry in his eyebrow, not blood. And I'm fairly certain that shirt will never be the same again.
I got the vegetables in today too, including two cherry tomatoes, three regular tomatoes (two from Amy F and one from CitEScapes), and a We-Be-Little pumpkin I'm going to grow up the light post. I put in two bell peppers, edamame, bush beans, patty pan squash, and a second sowing of carrots. I also planted dill and nasturtiums under the fruit trees to keep weeds down and lure beneficial insects. 
I was sick for half of last week, and the garden was looking like a weed farm. I felt very virtuous getting the weeds out and the veggies in.

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