Tuesday, May 31, 2011

backyard garden planning

I'd mentioned that there is an entirely new plan for turning the backyard into a more useful space. While there were some large raised beds a few years ago, they were poorly placed, and also too wide for me to easily reach across. So I took them down, intending to reconfigure the garden into a better arrangement, and then the distractions of life intervened. The only current "hardscape" is the somewhat ratty garden shed, (annoyingly located in the very best growing spot, that gets almost all day sunshine), and what I persist in calling the "stupid deck" a 10 x 20 unshaded wooden expanse that has no real use...

This is how I had been intending to eventually organise the backyard, rather a lot of small easily-reached square raised beds, for growing veggies; with the possibility of expanding them into longer beds by filling in the spaces between. but it is a design with a whole lot of squares and angles, and not terribly interesting as landscape.
former backyard plan

For the last year or two, the yard has consisted of primarily lumpy weed-covered hillocky bits, interspersed with random bits of salvaged fencing, abandoned garden stakes; all in all the backyard has been looking more like a rubbish tip than anything else. The hens do not mind, it is a giant chicken playground; they have their various favored foraging areas, and have created a hen "spa" underneath the arborvitae, with scooped out dust bathing places, and shelter from both rain and hot sunshine (assuming we get some this year!) But as my friend Sharon pointed out, I can certainly put the Speckeldy Sisters to work for me, they will scratch up and fertilise any space that I enclose them on.

The new plan is to create garden beds and spaces that have more organic shapes to them, and to work to integrate the existing structure and soften it, so that the yard will eventually have a sense of flow to it, becoming beautiful to look at and walk about in, as well as provide useful foodstuff for increased resilience. It should be no more work to create curved garden beds than square ones, and hopefully I can source free wood chips to use as pathway mulch. This is probably at least a five year plan, but it looks much more appealing than my original idea...

Today I moved a bunch of the old fencing scraps to start making a new henyard, the plan is to let the chooks kill off the grass where the future backyard garden beds will be . Let them run all this year, then next spring, build the new beds and plant, with all the nicely enriched soil. Will be turning the chicken coop around this coming weekend, with help from Crafternoon friends (the dang thing is heavy) so as to complete the semi-circular enclosure.

The long range plan:
The former chicken yard has rich soil which should be ideal for an asparagus bed, and a bed for annual herbs like basil and cilantro. At least one more fruit tree, an Italian prune plum, and S says that strawberries can be growing underneath, at least 'till the tree gets big enough to cast shade. The hens will be clearing the space off the back deck, which will eventually become a kind of sun-and-rays shaped garden, with the central bed for perennial herbs and flowers, and the rays alternating annual veggies and cover crops.

The chickens will eventually get a henyard that is the perimeter of the yard, allowing them access to their favored corner hangout, but keeping the garden protected from their depredations. Another exciting idea is to pull off the front of the garden shed, with it's horrible flakeboard double doors, and re-frame the front for a single central front door, a side front window (oooo daylight in the shed!) and on the other side, an interior hen coop. That way it will be very secure, protected from the weather, and easy to clean; there will still be a sliding hen door and ramp, but into the perimeter henyard.

Have not yet figured out how, but would like to use at least part of the deck for clothesline space, preferably in a relatively frugal fashion. The east edge of the deck would be a great place for flowers, including favorite edible ones. If I put up my canvas sunshade it will create a sheltered-from-sunshine place to actually sit and enjoy the yard, watch the silly hens and suchlike.

It will be interesting to see how these ideas take form over time....

Monday, May 30, 2011

Monday musings: new garden ideas

request : have corrugated cardboard boxes to recycle?...
I can use them... Acorn Cottage needs mulch (to kill grass)

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Has been a rather busy weekend; with three folks staying here, the Acorn Cottage bed-n-breakfast has been full up.

There have been interesting conversations, tasty meals (both here and in various favorite restaurants), and a modicum of progress on furthering food resilience. Beth and Karen were here just for one overnight; my friend Sharon (who was here for three days) is a master gardener, and enjoys thinking well and deeply about integrating edible food into the life/activity of the home.

Besides our field trip yesterday, one thing S really wanted to do whilst visiting here was to actually move me forward; we chose to work on the north side yard...
looking from my back door towards the backyard

This area has been just a walkway for the last five years. The assets are that it does get a fair bit of sunlight, it is already protected from the hens predations, and I walk by there several times a day; our plan developed to take advantage of all three of these... some of the space along the fence will be used to grow tender greens: chard, mesclun/lettuce, arugala, kai-lan or mizuna, etc. The five (inherited/gifted) "earthbox" self-watering planters have been moved to this spot, set atop cardboard to help keep the grass from next door from further enroachment.
before and after... looking towards the back door from the chicken gate
walking onions are currently growing in one of the boxes,
they are a great choice for easy allium self sufficiency

In addition, we worked out a longer-range plan for the backyard here, somewhat different than my previous design, that will both work with the current infrastructure and allow for future changes for increased productivity and beauty. My original plan was a lot of little square and rectangular beds, and the new plan is much more "organic" and rounded. There is nothing like bouncing ideas back and forth with someone who has a very different aesthetic view to spark new ideas!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

a field trip morning...

in which our plucky heroine follows the directions to the land of great big grass...

How can you not be charmed by instructions that include things like "Turn left on Dixie Mountain Rd at base of hill where a large barn has mural on upper part of wall. Follow the road for another 1.3 miles. Turn left onto NW Northrup Rd for about a third of a mile. Cross the little creek, and the road turns right and pavement ends..." The directions were completely accurate and without any difficulty at all, we found ourselves at Bamboo Garden Nursery.
some of these canes are as large around as my forearm...

giant timber bamboo "Moso"

timber bamboo "Sweetshoot"

the nursery is in the middle of woodland, so there are wildflowers

this is false Solomon's seal

and there are unusual cultivated plants as well...

flowering Flying Dragon citrus, a regionally hardy dwarf citrus
with contorted branches and astonishingly long curved thorns

in the lumber sales barn...

Now I have a terrible desire to plant timber bamboo in the front yard of Acorn Cottage... I know, not right now, there are sooo many other things ahead of that on the list... but it would be so delightful to have a bamboo grove in my front yard!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

a density of patterns

Let's see, when last we saw our plucky heroine, ten days ago, she was almost as sick as a dog... much improvement since then. I managed to complete five-plus days work in two, with the strong motivation of the possibility of spending a good chunk of the week up visiting G. That was a treat indeed, and we did not return south till midnight-thirty on Thursday this week.

A day later, my oldest friend Sharon came down here from Olympia, to participate in various cob-building activities that are happening as part of this years Village Building Convergence. She is hoping to eventually build some cob structures on her land, and getting hands-on experience before would be very helpful. We tootled around Portland and visited some of the cob structures that I know of that are relatively local to Acorn Cottage...

The entrance to the Re-Building Center here in Portland is an astonishingly beautiful cob-built structure, surmounted with welded metal branches and leaves...

as you walk along Mississippi Avenue, this delightful alcove beckons...

drawing you in towards a lovely front door;

the leaf is over two foot tall, and curves at the edge to form the door handles

the columnar cob trunks are rooted in the raised benches that edge the entryway

Look up! - branches and leaves echo the green outdoors,
and stretch towards the transparent roof above

Tucked in among the welded leaves and blossoms are all kinds of other woodland denizens. All the metalwork is created from recycled material of various sorts, and local folks were encouraged to contribute objects to be included

Friday, May 20, 2011

still wishful

Thank goodness for broth-in-a-box; when back to normal, will definitely re-stock that pantry shelf. There are many useful reasons to have a well-stocked pantry, whether to survive the Zombie Apocalypse or simply to ease life whilst illness strikes your household...

Wednesday almost the whole day spent sleeping, Thursday more than half. (I won't describe the other parts of those days...) While I'm feeling a bit better than Wednesday, am still not back to 100%. This nausea can leave right now as far as I'm concerned.

There has been enough improvement that studio work seems somewhat possible today, (and should I continue to improve, the back yard MUST get mowed this afternoon, the grass is almost a foot high! Such is the visible difference between lawn with hens and lawn without.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuesday tidbits - in the workroom

The last several days have been all about enameling, as one of the two regalia projects due at the end of the month required the completion of a new stamped/engraved/enameled Laurel as a component. Since it does not make sense to fire up the kiln for only one piece, it seemed a good idea to work on some of the other, not quite as immediately needed pieces as well.

Of course, all this work happens in the evening, and sometimes is so absorbing that I work long into the night. Monday night/Tuesday morning I finally stopped well after midnight, and before turning in, went out in the yard to check on the hens, and turned right around to go get my camera - the moon was so bright and beautiful
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on workbench and in kiln, the enamels gradually take their form...
A close view of a cloisonne laurel enamel, with stamped and wiggle-cut engraving underneath the transparent background.

These two enamels are fairly early work of mine, and are from the double-sided medallion of Kylson Skyfyre. (I forgot to take a picture before I worked on them, they were well and truly cracked, and when removed from their settings, large chunks of the enamel FELL OFF) Now that the enamels have been repaired, they will be replaced in their original setting, and take the long journey back to Oertha
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While in other news, yesterday I saw a new-to-me bird in the neighborhood. thought is was some kind of mutant goldfinch, a bit larger, more the size of a robin, and with a red head; but with a bit of online research, found out that it was, in fact, a western tanager. Very bright and beautiful.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Over the weekend, I took the train up north, to spend time with Gryphon... though my home is Acorn Cottage, I live in the heart of a city. He lives in the woods...

graced with light

above the green tunnel walls

new leaves drink sunshine

along the riverbank

clouds and water move

we see beauty everywhere

open your eyes and look

new flowers bloom in May

in the greenwood everchanging...

Monday, May 9, 2011

NaCl (a chemical romance)

an old favorite song, long lost with my albums one cold winter, recently remembered and found online...


by Kate and Anna McGarrigle

Just a little atom of chlorine
Valence minus one
Swimming through the sea
Diggin' the scene
Just havin' fun
She's not worried about the shape or size of her outside shell
It's fun to ionize
Just a little NaCl
With an unfilled shell

Somewhere in that sea
Lurks handsome sodium
With enough electrons on his outside shell
Plus that extra one
"Somewhere in this deep blue sea
There's a negative
for my extra energy
Yes, somewhere in this foam
My positive will find a home."

Then unsuspecting chlorine
Felt a magnetic pull
She looked down and her outside shell was full
Sodium cried, "What a gas! Be my bride
And I'll change your name from chlorine to chloride."

Now the sea evaporates to make the clouds for the rain and snow
Leaving her chemical compounds in the absence of H2O
But the crystals that wash upon the shore are happy ones
So if you never thought before...
Think of the love that you eat
When you salt your meat

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


in which our plucky heroine shares random things from the last few days...

On Sunday (hooray hooray the first of May) some friends and I went out of the city and up towards Mt. Hood...

first there is a mountain,
then there is no mountain,
then there is ...

melting snow creates myriad waterfalls

a dance of sunshine and water

the mountain shines clear


in shade and snow, the road ends

and we decide to turn back
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Appleblossom in the backyard, on my dwarf Akane apple. With luck, some of the neighborhood honeybees might find this little tree...

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In the interest of figuring out useful ways to make the morning routine go more smoothly, I am wondering if making up a batch of these "Breakfast Baked Eggs" would be helpful. I've tried making crustless quiche, but that is a bit difficult to just grab-n-go. (I once tried making them in paper cupcake liners, which was not a good idea). There are certainly plenty of small canning jars here at Acorn Cottage.
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On closer observation, the potted fig trees do not just have unfolding leaves, but some of the nubbins on their branches are actually fig babies! Mayhap this year there will be homegrown figs to eat...
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I saw this flashlight online and think it might be added to my Wednesday wishlist, although the wishlist is getting rather long these days. Figuring out how best to prioritise the various useful things is kind of a challenge - there are things for house, garden, and self, at all kinds of price points. Other than choosing first the things that will further life's necessity (water/food/shelter/protection/connection) rather than things that are just for pretty or just for fun, I'm still struggling with "what first?" Probably eyeglasses, since without being able to see clearly all else is far too challenging. I do wish that I'd bought one of these readymade rocket stoves before the price doubled though...

Monday, May 2, 2011

media Monday

Saw this first on FB, my pal R found and posted it yesterday in honor of May Day/Beltane... Hayao Miyazaki and Loreena McKennitt. (would have posted this yesterday, but was away from the computer up near Mt Hood)