Friday, October 14, 2011

Bird Food


Photo courtesy Flickr

I was enjoying a cup of coffee on the sun porch late Saturday afternoon when a flock of tiny kinglets invaded the equally tiny orchard of dwarf apple trees. The birds spent five minutes hopping from branch to branch eating, presumably, unwary bugs. It’s pleasant to watch guys with feathers do the maintenance.

There are several towering, ancient lilacs on this lot. I quit deadheading the flowers, which anyhow were out of convenient reach, after I learned that birds like to eat the seeds.

I actively foster the weed plantain because birds like those seeds, too. The sere weeks of late summer present roaming flocks with a seed buffet of clover, oregano, and miscellaneous dried volunteers. Any time I look out into the garden, someone’s out there feeding.

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More after the jump.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Unruly Vegetables


Photo courtesy Flickr

If there were a Vegetable Protective Service, my name would probably be close to the top of their watch list. I have never been able to spare highly-bred edible plants the time and attention they deserve to be their best. However, I now have quite a bit of experience observing commercial salad starts under challenging conditions. They grow like runts and go to seed early.

Late last June, I found vegetable seedlings at a neighborhood store and, as usual, picked up a few six packs in an unrealistic act of hope. I got them home, cleared last year’s dead stems off the kitchen compost heap, and decided on a kamikaze garden strategy: I would simply lift a whole cluster of starts out of its styrene housing and set it into the soil.

I had a surplus bucket of complete organic fertilizer I was eager to get rid of, so I mulched the seedling clusters with a ridiculous one-inch layer of soil amendments. I watered them a few times and, as usual, forgot about them.

The lettuces, chard, collards, and beets kept us in tender greens for weeks until what Seattleites jokingly refer to as a hot spell sent them into dormancy. The recent rains have brought the patch to life, though, in a way that is unprecedented. I have greens for the picking, and it looks as if the truck patch will renew itself next spring after happily producing most of the winter.

There’s a convenient crop of Roma tomatoes growing on the compost heap. They planted themselves. Potatoes have done the same thing.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Unanticipated Consequences

Photo courtesy Flickr

As I’ve tended the native landscape, I’ve occasionally wondered if I’m crowding out space for edible plants. Saturday I found a good crop of rose hips, that can be dried and brewed into a tea for vitamin C. (An acquaintance told me that rose hips protected England from scurvy during the German blockade of World War Two.)

The dock on the front bank, that sends up such ornamental rusty dry flower stalks, has a long, edible root much like parsnip, although I haven’t tried it yet.

The day lilies left from the previous ornamental landscape have edible tubers, though I haven’t tried those, either.

Not many dandelions survive, but the leaves are good in salad, and the roots, I’ve been told, can be roasted and ground like chicory to add a down home flavor to coffee.

I’m eager for the smooth-leafed chickweed to reappear, because it’s delicious in salad.

The Oregon grape set a good crop of berries this year. Their juice is delicious mixed with Concord grape.

The elderberry has produced truss after huge truss, ranging from six inches to a foot in diameter, since June, and it shows no signs of stopping.

This bounty produced itself.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wildlings

Photo courtesy Flickr

Saturday the garden called, and I don’t remember working in more perfect weather. Summer’s drought broke last week. The soil is hydrated again, allergens laid to rest, and weeds easy to pull.

Timing is everything when working with plants. The right call reduces labor by a power of ten. I hadn’t mowed the lawn for six weeks. It was crisp and beige in summer dormancy, and the color disguised the dead weeds I’d zapped with benign herbicide.

In the last ten days, odd shoots of grass have grown six inches, not enough to look shaggy, but quite enough to tell me it’s time to pay attention. As in late January, a timely mowing produces thick green turf. I wandered around with a rake, thatching the odd patch here and there, and then gave the place a once over with the mower set high, as usual. Looks pretty good.

I foster yarrow on the parking strip. Yarrow endures traffic and stays green no matter what. It’s mixed with clover and the fine grass lawn that came with the house. The yarrow had sent up some flower heads that had ripened seed. I just mowed them, and the dry seeds scattered over the turf just in time to settle in and sprout with the warmish, damp weather of mid-October.

A Queen Anne’s lace had colonized the parking strip, and I mowed it, too, in anticipation of transplanting it to the nearby bank of native shrubs and flowers when the weather gets really cool and damp. The in-house field scientist remarked that a large enough patch of Queen Anne’s lace will feed black swallow-tailed butterflies, and that there’s an engaging yellow and green spider that likes to live on the plant.

I shifted the garden to native plants because I wanted to save water, work less, and feel more at home in the city. I did not expect the fauna that would come with the restoration. Nootka rose brought wild canaries, and I’m eager to see Queen Anne’s complement of critters.

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