Early Harvests



Some of the organic produce we have harvested in the past week and a half or so (thank you, volunteers for all your help!).  Slowly, slowly, the gardens are producing more and more food as soil fertility improves, perennial food plants begin producing, and the entire permaculture system matures.




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Early Summer Evening




Walking the gardens in the evening is one of my favorite rituals.  It gives me a chance to take assessment of the various beds, dead-head flowers, pull weeds, prune as necessary.  The front yard perennial bed is beginning to fill in.  Late in the winter, several plants were damaged/destroyed when heavy tree rounds were accidentally dumped in my yard.  Slowly, new perennials are filling in the gaps.  Columbine, Sea Kale (Crambe maritima), Bee Balm, and several other new plants are beginning to establish, despite the slug onslaught.

The young plum trees (a Methley and an Early Laxton), have set a few fruit, despite my pruning heavily to shape them.  white clover fixes nitrogen below, nestled beneath honeyberries, rhubarb, comfrey, yarrow and other medicinal or edible perennials.  The day lilies are beginning to fill in and bloom, obscuring the fading foliage of daffodils and tulips.


Behind the Early Laxton plum, a rhubarb’s leaves capture and funnel water to the thirsty tree roots.  An artichoke’s silvery, deeply-cut foliage is a nice contrast to the deep rounded rhubarb leaves and profusion of lacy Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella).




In the backyard, bush beans and Dwarf Curly Scotch kale are growing rapidly.  The spears of garlic foliage are just beginning to turn brown, but the garlic won’t be ready to dig for another 2-4 weeks.



Ruth, in the side orchard, amidst tiny new Goumi berry (Eleagnus multiflora), Juneberries (Amelanchier alnifolia), Seckel pear, Breda Giant medlar.  In front of her, one of a number of lupines, which fix nitrogen.  Behind her, to the right, comfrey act as dynamic accumulators, and make fabulous fertilizer.



One of two Angelica plants in the shade garden.  The tiny seedlings are beginning to take off.  They should reach 6 feet by the end of summer.  When they get larger, I would like to make a batch of traditional Angelica candy.



Velvety thimbleberries, an Oregon native, are beginning to turn color.  While somewhat flavorless and fragile on their own, they will be added to other garden fruits when making jam.

The children enjoy using the large, soft leaves in their make-believe play – they make a fine palette for berry and charcoal paints, or a few laid overlapping can be twisted into a bundle for various treasures (pretty stones, immature hazelnuts, currant berries).

Back tomorrow with some photos of the produce we have been picking the last two weeks.

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Early June in the Permaculture Garden



The first of the goumi berries (Eleagnus multiflora) are ripe.  I picked a handful, and my eldest promptly ate them all.


We have four goumi bushes (2 of Sweet Scarlet, and 2 of Red Gem), but only two are old enough to produce any berries.  The young plants will produce a few pints of berries -which as you can see in the above photo, ripen in succession – but in the future, we should get more than enough for batches of jam and fruit leather and fresh eating.  As a bonus, the shrubs are nitrogen fixers, so I have situated them near fruit trees in the orchard, and just uphill from one of the raspberry patches.


Another look at our little persimmon guild.  The Early Fuyu persimmon has lighter colored, glossy leaves (upper right).  Clockwise from the persimmon: chocolate mint, Japanese iris, Russian comfrey, horseradish, mojito mint, black currants.  Unseen are two young lilacs, burdock, a highbush cranberry, and the goumi berry bush shown earlier in the post.



Adjacent to this guild is a recently added a Smokey Juneberry (Amelanchier alnifolia).  Juneberries are known by many names, including “saskatoons”, “serviceberries”, and my personal favorite, “chuckley pear”.  I ordered three plants of two different varieties from Burnt Ridge Nursery, which arrived as little dormant sticks, but rapidly leafed out and are doing quite well.  It will ultimately grow 6 or more feet tall, and after a flush of fragrant white flowers in late spring, produce abundant harvests of pinkish-purple fruit, rich in vitamin C.



The black currants all around the yard have been spared the plague of gooseberry fruit flies that have ruined my other currants.



A final shot of the burdock (with my foot thrown in for scale).  It is such a handsome plant, and growing rapidly.  I have had to remove flower heads multiple times this week, and look forward to trying the root in stir fry later in the summer.

IMG_9417[1]Hal, our six yr-old, thrilled to have found the first ripe red raspberry of the summer.  Gardening with children is such a great experience.  They know the garden and its plants as well as I do, and I hope they will have fond memories of running barefoot in the raspberry patch, snacking as they go.


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Hidden Corner and Weekly Harvest


Our chicken coop is a giant monstrosity we acquired four years ago for next to nothing on Craigslist.  It got a window and bright paint and sits very happily in the back of the yard.

Because it is so tall, I knew it needed a vertical climber trained up the side.  I chose Concord grapes, which my grandpa always grew, and remind me of childhood visits to his garden in Indiana.  Concords have a distinct flavor, which grape enthusiasts call “foxy.”  My kids aren’t especially fond of the flavor, but I love them. (There are plenty of other grape varieties in the front yard which they enjoy.)



I was a bit lazy with my grape pruning last fall, and I had to thin the baby grapes this week.  Looks like we are in for a large crop, nonetheless.


Behind the chicken coop, tucked back in a corner bordering our two neighbors, is the most precious plant in my garden.  There is a volunteer burdock in the foreground (it has an edible and much-prized root, but I diligently remove flowers before they set seed, as it can become a weed quite easily.)  Russian Bocking Comfrey, black currants, a Goumi berry bush, horseradish, mint, Japanese iris all surround a small tree with glossy leaves:


This diminutive tree is an Early Fuyu persimmon.  It is the most expensive plant in my garden.  I planted the whip four years ago, and it has twice been broken by small children visiting my yard.  It is incredibly slow growing, adding less than eight inches per year.  Some day it will be a shapely 15 ft specimen loaded with delicious fruit every autumn, but for now, I baby it along, and hope it comes into production before my kids are off to college.


To round out this little update, here are some of the crates of herbs and rhubarb and such I picked for BCS this week.  Bea cut and tied all of the lavender, but we were sure to leave lots for the bees, and some for our family to use, as well.



As spring begins to roll into summer, I am trying to let the early hiccups in the garden not get me down, because so much of growing food is out of our control (moles gnawed on some of my dahlias over the winter, killing them.  Slugs have killed a half dozen summer squash seedlings when I wasn’t diligent in slug-picking.  And worst of all, gooseberry maggots in all my red, white and pink currants – after four years of no problems, this year is a total loss, and next year will require floating row covers).

Watching the kids dish huge spoonfuls of homemade rhubarb compote over ice cream, nursing an injured duck back to health, seeing the first of the tomatoes set already, picking food to share with the families at BCS…these things augment the joy inherent in tending a garden.   I think it is going to be a very good growing season.


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Late May in the Garden, II


Welcome back!  Today we will walk through our sunny side yard garden, and touch on a few other elements as well.  When we bought our home five years ago, the yard was all sod, weeds, a split ornamental plum, invasive bamboo.  All of those elements are gone now, and we have been adding more perennial crops and improving the garden design as time and budget allow.  One of the first plants we began to add is the highbush blueberry.   Because plants can take five or more years to establish and produce a mature harvest, we wanted to get them going as soon as possible.

Altogether, we have eleven high bush blueberries, four half-highs.  Last year, we added seven low bush blueberries, which are easily tucked in among other plants and produce smaller, but more flavorful berries.  This year, for the first time, we will get a decent harvest of blueberries!  We are certainly looking forward to increasing yields over the next several years.


Red raspberries in the side yard. They are unaffected by the fungal disease that has required me to rip up all my red raspberries in the backyard.

In the side yard, and across the path from the highbush blues, two quince trees, strawberries, marionberries and raspberries grow along the fence.

The quince trees bloom first, followed by strawberries, then raspberries, then the marionberries.  A sequential floral feast is available to the honeybees all spring.



Looking toward the backyard, the quince (trained as a bush) in the foreground screens the fairy garden and Sunchoke patch.  Around a young Ashmead’s Kernel apple, directly in front of the shed, an apple guild serves as the children’s fariy garden.  Iris, columbine, mint, dwarf English lavender, rhubarb, yarrow, peonies, borage, bee balm and a newly planted lilac are all beginning to establish themselves.  These plants all benefit the apple tree and its pollinators, and provide a playspace for the children, who tuck sea shells, stones, old wicker baskets in for the fairies.



Here is a view from the shed, looking up the little side yard path.  day lilies and horseradish line the left side of the path before the blueberries.  A rambling female fuzzy kiwi (left and top foreground) likes to send tendrils out after the apple tree, and I am constantly coaxing her back over the shed.



This year, we will get dozens and dozens of quince.  The leaves of the trees are affected a bit by rust, but it never seems to bother the fruit.

The weekend is packed with derby for me and the girls, but I will have a post up early next week.  Next will be a visit to the backyard gardens, including the bulk of the orchard space, annual beds, and a visit to my favorite and most stubbornly slow growing plant in the garden.

Blessings on your weekend.

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Late May in the Garden Part I

Front yard perennial bed, a mix of edibles and beneficial flowering plants.

Front yard perennial bed, a mix of edibles and beneficial flowering plants.

It has been a long, long time since I’ve done a garden update.  Many things have changed as a succession of new plants have been added, and ten yards of wood chips spread about.   Nitrogen fixers and annual veggies have given way to a maturing system full of edible perennials and low-maintenance food cultivation.  So, let’s take a quick tour of the front yard and shade gardens, shall we?

IMG_9322[1]I consider the front beds adjacent to the street to be my “good neighbor” beds.  I try to keep them as aesthetically pleasing as possible, and let them serve as an advertisement for the beauty as well as the functionality of permaculture.  The beds are full of spring bulbs, lilacs, and a steady succession of summer flowers such as yarrow (red, above left), salvias, columbine, and many, many others.  The fact that these lovely plants all have medicinal or edible uses, or provide a benefit to edible plants here, is entirely on purpose.

In this bed, (clockwise from bottom left) yarrow, honeyberries, comfrey (background), love-in-a-mist, leeks, nasturtium, and a young peony all coexist quite happily, providing a mix of texture and color, and of course, food.

IMG_9326[1]IMG_9327[1]We have five honeyberry bushes (two early and three late), all planted last year.  This year, we will get perhaps four quarts of berries of off these edible members of the honeysuckle family.  The early varieties are nearly ripe, and it is only May!  Although they are a bit acidic, their flavor is similar to a blueberry mixed with a blackberry, and their extremely early ripening time, compact size and handsome shape make them a good plant for the small-scale permaculturist or home gardener.

IMG_9330[1]I love lush, closely packed groupings of plants of varying textures.  When these plants are collected around a fruit tree, and all somehow benefit each other, we call this grouping of plants a “guild”.  Here I have an Italian prune plum guild: Russian Bocking comfrey (dynamic accumulator and fantastic bumblebee food source), bronze fennel, which hosts beneficial insects (as do the love-in-a-mist, columbine and yarrow planted close by).  Honeyberries, pink and white currants provide additional fruit crops at varying times.  Rhubarb provides an early food crop, but its large leaves collect and funnel rain down to the base of the tree and its large roots help break up dense soil.

Perhaps you noticed the rocks hanging from the plum tree?  What are they?

IMG_9315[1]Here is a better example on another plum tree.  When fruit branches grow at a narrow angle (less than 45 degrees), they can easily split once loaded with fruit.  Some varieties are more prone to narrow branching than others.  In order to prevent damage to a tree you have spent many years caring for, it is best to help stretch young branches to a stronger angle.  One way to do this is to tie rocks to young flexible branches until they are pulled down to a wider angle.  By training the tree this way when it is young, it will not split under the weight of its own fruit in a few years.

IMG_9338[1]I am a sucker for oriental poppies.  They have a large root and attract insects, so I think they serve a purpose in the permaculture garden.  The way they lift the mood and make me smile means they deserve a space even if they have no other function.  (However, the moles in the garden have taken to digging them up and killing them.  Perhaps there are tasty grubs congregating at their roots?  I have lost three this spring.)


The front yard contains more beds with apples and lowbush blueberries, aronia berries, and high bush blueberries.  It also contains lots of annual beds, which volunteers helped me plant with tomatillos, summer squash, tomatoes, kale, beets and Cape Gooseberries this week.  But those photos are for another day, later in the summer.

On the way to the side shade garden, you must enter through a gate, over which the hops have gotten a bit rambunctious this year.  Only May, and they are sprawling up and over everything.  They emit a delicious herbal smell as you brush past them.

IMG_9347[1]The shade garden has a large collection of natives, including salal and evergreen huckleberry.  It also contains non-native edibles such as goji berry, jostaberry, lingonberries, Angelica, anise hyssop, spearmint, and white currants.

It is suddenly getting a burst of sunshine this year since our neighbor removed a large holly tree, and I am tempted to put in a sun-loving plant right where that bolt of sunlight streams in, because the salal there is not enjoying 8 hours of bright sun.

IMG_9361[1]The thimbleberries – a thornless native raspberry relative which slowly spreads by rhizomes – are absolutely alive with the buzz of honeybees and bumblebees.  While the fruit is not spectacular, it is a good addition to other jams and jellies, and the good it does the bees means it needs a place in every shady garden in the Northwest.

IMG_9354[1]We anticipate a bumper crop of elderberries in the shade garden.  The two planted here get less than four hours of sun a day, but seem perfectly content.  This enormous beast is a “York”, which has grown much taller than the catalog suggested it would.  This year we will remove the oldest trunks (technically stems) which promotes the growth of new, more productive shoots from the base of the shrub.

IMG_9357[1]Before all the flowers are pollinated, I will harvest some this week for a batch of elderflower cordial.

Hope you enjoyed the quick tour of a small part of farmette.  Please stop back later this week with an update on the orchard, back and sideyard gardens.

Blessings on the rest of your week, and hope you have the same gorgeous spring weather we have been having here in Portland.











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Snowy Yarn Along



George peered out the window this morning and asked, “Where all my snow go?”  Winter’s brief visit has ended, leaving us a landscape of sodden ground and emerging daffodils.

While we were snowed in for four brief days, I baked – and my voracious mob of children consumed – four loaves of bread, endless desserts, and two 9×13 dishes of oatmeal applesauce cake.  The original gluten-free recipe can be found here, but due the flurry of baking and our inability to get to a grocery, I was forced to rework the recipe around the contents of my pantry.  The resulting changes yielded a moist, chewy, delicious dessert as good or better than the original, so I thought I would share the altered recipe here:

Make-Do Oatmeal Applesauce Snack Cake

In a small sauce pan, combine:

1 C whole milk

1 1/2 C applesauce 

1 heaping C rolled oats (NOT steel-cut)

Cook together on med-low heat, until oats are cooked thoroughly.  Allow to cool to room temp.

While the oat mixture cooks, use a stand mixer with paddle attachment to cream:

1/4 C unsalted butter

1/4 C hazelnut oil (or other mild-flavored oil)

3/4 C sugar (I used natural unrefined sugar)

1/4 C maple syrup

1 C dark brown sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Add 2 large eggs (I used duck eggs), one at a time, and beating thoroughly between each addition.

In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients:

1/2 C whole wheat flour

1/2 C spelt flour (you can use an additional 1/2 C whole wheat if you don’t have spelt flour)

2 tbsp flaxseed meal

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp nutmeg

pinch of clove

With mixer on low, slowly add dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  Fold in cooled applesauce mixture.  Pour into a greased 9×13 casserole dish, sprinkle with natural sugar.  Bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out relatively clean.  Cake will be moist and gooey.  



In the midst of cabin fever, worked on lots of craft projects.  Between outings in the snow, I accomplished a fair amount of knitting, while the kids went through a ream of construction paper.  The living room was strewn with paper snippets, duct tape, crayons, stickers, and creative energy.  Ruth was cranking out Valentine’s, Bea built a blue paper TARDIS, and Hal and George created a giant stack of doodles.

Sandra’s Slouchy Beret (above) was a fast, easy project – perfect for knitting while watching Dr. Who with the family.  It is made from scraps of yarn, and completed in a few hours.  The beret is currently blocking (a necessary step), and I’ve already cast on another quick-knit.

Sharing with Ginny’s Yarn Along today.  I hope to be back before the weekend with some gardening posts, as we redesign some beds, add perennials, and begin seed starting for the 2014 garden year!!


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Meyer Lemon



Portland is in the midst of a rare snow storm, and all our weekend plans (derby, derby, speed skating, and more derby) have been canceled.  Instead, we have been playing in the snow and sledding and making snow ice cream.

And baking.  Lots of baking.  Something about the arrival of snow, inability to do garden work, a chilly house…a few days into the cold front, and I’ve done so much baking we’ve run out of butter.  And sugar.


Meyer lemons are in season right now, – a perfect opportunity to try a new lemon bar recipe.  They were delicious!  (Just a note, the lemon bars are gooey, and the original recipe recommends lining the baking dish in aluminum foil.   I don’t like to bake anything acidic in foil, and used buttered parchment instead.  As you can see, the bars came out easily, and baked perfectly.)

IMG_9182With the leftover seeds, Bea wanted to try out an activity she saw on Pinterest.

IMG_9184 IMG_9185We put the pot in a sunny window and hope they germinate.

IMG_9197Looks like the snow will continue through the night, so Ruth and I are making one of our favorite bread recipes after supper.  That way, we’ll have a hearty breakfast of homemade bread, marmalade, and scrambled eggs to bolster us before we head out to play in the fresh snow.  Who knows how many years it will be before we have the opportunity to build snowmen again?


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Midwinter Sunshine



Ruth painted a cheery sun on the card and we sewed a drawstring gift bag to round out the gift, and packaged it up.   It was sent it on its way across the country, where it will bring a fellow Grinnellian some Christmas cheer.



To bring our own family a bit of sunshine in midwinter, a batch of sunny bright marmalade was in order.  I was planning on plain old orange, but when I managed to get my hands on a bowl full of calamondins this week, I knew they were destined for marmalade perfection.  Calamondins are petite, seedy and extremely sour citrus.  However, jam connoisseurs (like Bea, who absolutely relishes marmalade) consider marmalade made with these little oranges to be the finest around.

Calamondins have a slightly smoky, musky – almost black currant – undertone that lends a subtle complexity to the finished jam.  The peel melts in as it cooks, providing texture and flavor, without any detracting chunkiness or bitterness.  If you are lucky enough to be able to source calamondins, the flavor is well worth the extra effort of seeding and slicing dozens of miniature oranges.  If not, you can substitute satsuma tangerines for sweeter finished product, or Meyer lemons for an extra tart marmalade.  Here is my recipe:


Calamondin Marmalade for Bea

Calamondins (see substitutions above), halved, seeded, and sliced paper thin, to equal 3 cups of pulp + peel (about 40 fruits)

2 1/4 cups water (or 3/4 cup water for every cup of citrus pulp)

White sugar


-In a medium heavy-bottomed sauce pan, combine pulp and water.  On medium heat, bring to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  (You can do this the night before and refrigerate it.)

-Prep all your canning equipment.  Bring hot water bath canner full of water up to a boil.  Sterilize jars, heat lids and rings.

-Measure pulp.  It should equal 4 cups (give or take).  In a large heavy-bottomed pot, combine sugar and pulp in a 1:1 ratio (add 1 cup of white sugar for every cup of pulp).  Bring to a boil, and cook until jelly point (22oF) is reached.  (Alternately, you use the spoon method to determine when the jam is finished.).

-Citrus is high in pectin, so be careful not to overcook, or you will have unpleasant sheets of rubbery pectin in the finished product.  Remove jam from the heat, and stir once a minute for four minutes (this distributes the peel, so it does not all float to the top of each jar).  After four to five minutes, the jam can be jarred up.

-Pour marmalade into hot sterilized jars, add lids and secure rings.  Process 1/2 pints in a hot water bath canner for five minutes.

And to bring a little cheer to your midwinter as we turn back to the sun, a few lines from one of our favorite books of poetry - A Visit To William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard – and its delightful Marmalade Man:

The man in the marmalade hat
bustled through all the rooms,
and calling for dusters and brooms
he trundled the guests from their beds,
badgers and hedgehogs and moles.
Winter is over, my loves, he said.
Come away from your hollows and holes.




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December Afternoon


Knitting a few rows on some Toasty mitts ,

IMG_9031IMG_9040Daily checks on fermenting veggies.  Jalapeno Purple kraut all finished and getting jarred up for gifts.  Plain sauerkraut coming along nicely.  It will be ready to serve with Christmas dinner. (The weight goes back on top when I’m done checking, so all cabbage is submerged below the brine.)

IMG_9024Vying for space in front of the heater vent to thaw frozen fingers and toes,


1655 1692

Enjoying the ever-rotating display of Christmas decorations the children arrange and rearrange as they play with them.

Back tomorrow with a recipe for the coming Solstice, and some more knitted gifts.

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