Sunday, June 06, 2010

Talkin' Bout My V-V-Vegetation

The weather lately has been amazing–hot, sunny, and alternating between oppressively humid and perfect. Last night we finally got the rain we've been needing, making this year so far the polar opposite of last "summer." Besides the vegetable garden, which is doing well, I've been doing some simple landscaping with fruit-bearing plants to establish low-maintenance, high-yield beds that will provide us with lots of food in years to come. The marginal strips around the edges of our almost acre are pretty scruffy, and inhabited by some pretty scrappy and tenacious weeds. Previous attempts to dig them out and plant have failed, except with big things like lilacs or aggressive things like day lilies. So this time around, for fruit and flower beds alike, I'm just sheet-mulching.

The blackberries going in.

It's a popular technique in permaculture, and makes for much less work and a much better success rate for the new plantings. All you do is knock down anything tall, put down cardboard or layers of newspaper, and cover it all with compost. Then you plant what you want directly into the compost and mulch hard around it all. By the time the barrier degrades, the weeds underneath are dead, and your new plants are established. It gives the favored plants an excellent head start, and ideally requires only light weeding with new applications of compost and mulch every spring. So far, it's working quite well.

The blackberries mulched and edged with a fallen tree from the field. On the left, blackcurrants, a clove currant, and the mint.

The blueberries (three 20-year-old plants from Lee) and currants (pink and white, also from Lee) that I put in last fall have taken famously to their new home and have flowered and fruited prolifically. The raspberries from last summer (three kinds of red and a yellow) that I planted between my studio and the herb garden have also exploded with growth, and are laden with ripening fruit. All three of the cherry trees I planted are thriving, and two bore some fruit this spring, though the birds got just about all of it. Inspired by this success, I've been getting all kinds of busy with the fruit this year. So far, besides the blackberries, I've planted some rare Russian blackcurrant varieties plus a clove currant at the end of the bed, interspersed with the spearmint that was already there. This spearmint grew in our window box in Greenpoint, Brooklyn back in 1997, and has followed us ever since. It will spread around the currant bushes and be a useful and aggressive ground cover to help keep the weeds in check.

The blueberries are going off like crazy.

I put a row of nine little lingonberry bushes in front of the blackberries, so they'll spread and add visual interest and a very underrated fruit to our arsenal. I put a prickly pear next to the driveway in one of the hottest spots we have. They're indigenous, and spread, and their fruit is quite good, so I'm happy to have it. Next to the pink and white currants I added a red and a jostaberry (a cross between currant and gooseberry). The deer love the jostaberry leaves, so it's not going to fruit until next year. I've been making some real progress with the deer fence, so we'll likely be getting a lot less traffic in future.

The deer-mauled jostaberry bush, the white and pink currants, and the tiny little red currant on the right. June-bearing strawberries all around, with three rhubarb plants and two kinds of native grapes along the fence. I'll be raising this fence up to deerproof height and trellising the grapes on it.

Next up will be two hardy kiwi vines, a male and a female, which need a trellis so I have to build one. And I got two Nanking cherries as well, which, though small, will grow into beautiful small trees with lovely flowers and tasty fruit. I'm still thinking about where to put them. And hazelnuts–at least two–are going to be the first plantings in the field, which I brush-hogged but good last week. Cutting the field was a win/win/win: it put a big hurt on the poison ivy, robbed the deer of food and camouflage, and gave me a workout like I haven't had since I rototilled the labyrinth back in 2008. Seeing it all clean-shaven is really helping me visualize where everything should go in the fall. There will be more fruit, but I'm also thinking about a pond, a bridge, a tea house/gazebo sort of thing, and lots more. Now all I have to do is earn a living.


artist shabaka said...

I've inherited a garden, now I have to keep it up. I'll be back to check your blog. :-)

butterface said...

Eff you with your nice weather. It feels like February up here. Rhubarb is done and we wont have any local fruit around for a month.

This just put me in a bad mood.

But I look forward to seeing something done with that prickly pear. You are officialy the only person I know who grows it. It's so yummy, yet always so ignored.

cookiecrumb said...

That's a nice thing to say about tenacious, invasive mint.
BTW, I love spearmint. I grow it in a pot, though.

peter said...

El: I gave it some thought, but chose to leave out the more mature plantings. So it looks like everything is babies when it really isn't. And I'm waiting on the greenhouse; I want it to be a nice wood-frame number attached to my studio as opposed to a hoop house. There are aesthetics to be considered, you know.

Jidé: How nice to have you here! Sorry we didn't see each other in Miami last year. Please do come back. I want to hear about your garden.

Brittie: My day just got better knowing that you're having a sad.

CC: Yeah, well, our weeds are ferocious so it takes a ground cover like mint to hold its own. And the currants grow well above it, so there shouldn't be any squabbling.

precious said...

I envy how your garden turned out. The plants looked so healthy! I love it!
dining set

Heather said...

I can't believe you're intentionally inviting blackberries into your garden. They're a potent noxious weed here (though delicious). Burbanks - the ones with fruit the size of a kumquat - cover thousands of acres of forest and floodplain land in Oregon, and cost taxpayers millions in control efforts.

I used to always pack a tupperware when I had field work because you'd always end up having to hack through some to get to a creek, and after stuffing myself with berries I'd still want to bring some home.

Franklin said...

You plant directly into the compost? Could you say more about this? I always thought that you're supposed to mix compost into soil at a modest ratio or you end up burning the plants. I also would like to know what you're using as a reference on permaculture if indeed you are.

peter said...

Blanche: These are thornless, and they're in a spot where they're going to have wild roses and wild blackberries for neighbors, and a mowed lawn on the other side. They don't spread here like they do there, on account of we have winter.

Franklin: If the compost is fully cooked–crumbly, soft, black, and smelling like soil–then it is soil. Nature fertilizes from the top. Click the link in this post and check out Lee's books; Weedless Gardening might be a good place to start.

dangoodbaum said...

kind of surprised about the blackberry hatin, but since we only get them at the end of the summer in canada, they are elusive, badass...maybe I would hate them if they were around more. Just getting all plump and better than the other berries.

Your fruit trees make me angry and jealous. Next summer's rooftop strawberries better improve.