Photo Update Spring 2014

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Wow! Our recent weather in West Michigan has been fabulous gardening weather. Several warm, sunny days with intermittent rain. Not enough rain to keep you indoors all day, but just enough to keep me from needing the sprinkler more than once. I’m so thankful!

During this previous winter I realized that I simply didn’t take enough pictures of the farm in 2013. To remedy that in 2014 I plan to, at a minimum, take photos for a spring, summer and fall photo update. These pictures are a mini-tour of just what our micro-farm looks like this May. I decided to include the good, the bad and the ugly to give you a realistic picture. It’s not very glamorous, but here’s hoping that will change by mid-season!

Let’s start the tour out on a good note with the beautiful flowering tree in our Front Yard. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I appreciate its beautiful white blossoms and long-lasting leaves each year.

spring 2014 farm photo tour

spring 2014 farm photo tour

This isn’t the only flowering tree in our Front Yard. Last year we cut down a dying ornamental cherry tree and in December we replaced it with this sour cherry tree. The tree is four years old and all of these beautiful blossoms mean we’ll have at least a handful of sour cherries to harvest this year.

cherry tree in spring

cherry  blossom closeup

The Front Yard also includes a shady area underneath one of our maple trees where rhubarb is grown. This rhubarb is starting its third spring at our place; we received it as a cutting from family friends. This year I think I’ll pick one or two stalks but mostly I’m just going to let it grow. I’m so excited about it because I love rhubarb. Knowing that it will come back year after year without any intervention from me makes me love it all the more!

young rhubarb

young rhubarb

young rhubarb

Next to the rhubarb I found this…

day lilly

young rhubarb

But also… this… (I was a little surprised!)

dead squirrel

Let’s round out our tour of the Front Yard with something that’s actually alive. Last fall I dug up all the hostas in the shady front yard (or so I thought) and transplanted them along a barren section at the back of the house. The plan is to plant daisies and other perennials in the front yard this month. Meanwhile, I was surprised to see about ten areas in the front flower bed where hostas are coming up anyway. I love that these beautiful shade-loving plants keep on giving!

spring hosta

That’s all for now in the Front Yard. However, there’s plenty happening in the Backyard (the fenced portion of our one acre property). Most of this is not-so-pretty. For example, imagine how excited I was when I noticed that my hose (I need 200+ feet to reach the garden) had sprung a geyser leak.

hose

Also we have plenty of weeds around. Here’s a beautiful dandelion (edible, but I haven’t gone there yet) and a sample of the sea of maple seedlings growing everywhere in our lawn.

dandelion

maple seedlings in lawn

Two of our four maple trees are in this portion of the yard. One has a birdhouse on it (built by Owen and Ryan). Every year it has a new resident, and not all of them have been birds. This year however a bluejay has moved in. He’s pretty cute.

birdhouse

The birdhouse tree is toward the back of the fenced area. This back fence is where we typically grow blackberries. However last year they became very diseased and I had to cut them back dramatically. (You can read about that adventure here.) I did my best only to cut back old canes and leave the new growth, but clearly these babies are not making a come back. My neighbor did point out some healthy looking new growth on the other side of the fence, but I missed getting a picture for this post.

2014 farm photo tour

This back fence area is also the section of the yard where the dogs like to dig (much to Ryan’s dismay). Here’s Marley chillin’ in one of his most recent creations. Also Daisy is eager to head out to the Main Garden. She loves to join me while gardening… if only I could train her to pull weeds…

2014 farm photo tour

dog at the gate

Slow down Daisy; It’s not time to move on yet. Before our tour heads out to the Main Garden we need to take a peek at the Fenceline Garden and the chicken paddocks, both in the fenced Backyard.

Daisy the dog

The Fenceline Garden isn’t much to look at right now. It’s difficult to tell in this picture but the entire 250 SQF bed is full of sugar snap peas. Well… and weeds…

fenceline garden spring 2014

And rhubarb (planted from seed last year)…

rhubarb from seed

And spearmint transplanted late last summer…

spearmint

And holes dug by the dogs… Apparently I did a poor job when I initially put up the deer netting used to keep dogs and chickens out of the Fenceline Garden. You can rest assured that after I found these holes, I made sure the netting was much more secure. Sadly the dogs and chickens have also destroyed Owen’s garden next to the swing set. This one isn’t fenced. It also didn’t help that the lumber used to hold the raised bed in place gave way to rot mid-summer last year.

spring 2014 farm photo tour

spring 2014 farm photo tour

Once the peas are harvested I’ll plant the crops I shared with you in our Fenceline Garden plan earlier this year. To see the detailed plan of perennial fruit, herbs and annual veggies, click here. A container of mint can also be found nearby.

mint

The greenhouse is also in the Backyard. Here’s a preview of some of our seedlings sitting on the potting table outside the greenhouse.

seddlings in trays

Speaking of the greenhouse, here’s a shot of a few Red Winter Kale seedlings growing through the floor of the greenhouse (which is simply covered in patio pavers). These kale seedlings are special – they are the offspring of kale I grew in 2012 and overwintered until they went to seed in 2013. So… they’re basically my grandchildren…

kale seedlings

Now onto the chicken paddock area. It’s easy to see which paddock the chickens graze in and which one is untouched. This imbalance started last fall, leaving us with the option of having two mostly decimated paddocks or one bountiful and one barren. This month (May) I’m focusing on stocking the bountiful paddock with self-serve food like blueberries, beans, quinoa, chickweed, clover, lettuces and other greens. In June we’ll let the chickens free-range in the backyard so that the bountiful paddock can continue to grow and the barren paddock can begin to recover. (For details on the plants I chose for both spaces, click here.)

spring 2014 farm photo tour

The green you see below is a pile of weeds pulled from the Main Garden. I’ve been feeding the pulled weeds to the chickens.

spring 2014 farm photo tour

Below you’ll see a couple of buckets (bottom one is full of chicken feed) that block the chicken-sized gap between the post and the gate. Classy, right?

spring 2014 farm photo tour

spring 2014 farm photo tour

The strawberries on the bountiful side are beginning to blossom!

spring 2014 farm photo tour

Here are two blueberry bushes (four years old). They’re ready to be transplanted into the paddock this week.

spring 2014 farm photo tour

spring 2014 farm photo tour

And how about this – the bountiful paddock still doesn’t have a gate. That’s why we have two ladders set up next to the fence. Sadly, the only way to get to the nesting boxes (and hence, eggs) is by entering the gate-less paddock. (#fail) In the winter it wasn’t such a big deal because the giant mounds of snow enabled me to simply step over the four-foot tall fence. I’m thinking it’s time to finally put that gate in…

spring 2014 farm photo tour

Now let’s move beyond the fence to the third section of our property, affectionately known as The Woods. Here the only photo I have to show you is this: Garlic mustard. It’s all over the place. Every year I vow to commit time to pulling them before they blossom. This year I spent more time than ever, but I still can’t keep up with them. Garlic mustard is a very invasive plant and I’m doing my best to keep it from taking over.

garlic mustard

Once we get through The Woods we arrive at the final portion of our one acre property: The Back 40. (I know, I know… just stick with me here, ok?) That’s where the Main Garden and our Micro-Orchard are located.

Right now the Main Garden is a disaster. Weeds everywhere. Clearly the cardboard you see blown about the garden and piled up in some places didn’t do the best job of suppressing them. There are also pvc hoops and garden steaks laying everywhere. My goal is to have everything cleaned up by the end of May, but transplanting and sowing come first this month.

spring 2014 farm photo tour

spring 2014 farm photo tour

At least the Owen and Marley statue at the garden’s entrance is presentable.

boy and dog statue

Despite its appearance, the garden is already working hard. Here are some crops (wanted or otherwise) currently growing. At present the potatoes are the stars of the garden. These are Desiree (red) potatoes from Seed Saver’s Exchange.

young potato plants

young potato plants

Here Arugula seedlings are sprouting up through the soil of a hugelkultur bed.

arugula

A shallot (planted from sets purchased at Wedel’s in Kalamazoo) is pushing its way through soil amended with waste hay from our bunny Nacho.

shallot seedling

Sweet (yellow) onions are also growing in a nearby bed.

onion seedlings

But our garlic – planted last fall in a hugelkultur bed – has them all beat. It looks great!

garlic

Not all of the beds look this good. Adjacent to the garlic bed there are several hugelkultur beds that are overrun with weeds. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that as the wood below has decomposed, the beds have settled dramatically and are now level with the weedy aisles around them. One of my primary projects for this year is to add more compost to these beds (raising them back up) and to create retaining walls.

spring 2014 farm photo tour

You can see in the picture below that even the slight barrier of a few logs helps to keep the weeds away. Since the garden budget is tight this year (no CSA prepayments to fund upgardes) this will be my initial choice for retaining walls around the hugelkultur beds.

spring 2014 farm photo tour

Some of the unwanted “weeds” in the garden are crops from last year. Several beds overwintered small carrots and onions. Also we allow some of our radishes to go to seed. This is because they act as a trap crop for vine borers near our squashes but we also enjoy eating the edible seed pods. Some of those pods are back again as baby radishes growing on the fringes of my beds.

carrots and onions

radishes

But back to the crops that are actually supposed to be here! You’ll find more peas – some snap, but mostly shelling peas for canning – scattered throughout the Main Garden.

peas

And the Strawberry bed, though badly invaded by grass, is bursting with fresh blossoms. I can’t wait for fresh berries!

strawberries and weeds

spring strawberry blossom

The final thing I’d like to share with you is the progress of our Micro-Orchard. Last spring I discovered that we had an existing apple tree growing under the oppressive shade of a mulberry tree, growing in the shadow of a sickly pine tree, which was itself growing not far from a towering second mulberry. We cut down the first mulberry and the pine tree to give the apple some breathing room. (All three trees were growing within just a foot or two of each other.) We decided to also cut down a giant ornamental cherry tree and a second pine tree to make room for more apples. In the pictures below you’ll see the two very young apple trees we planted late last fall… and the glorious “discovered” apple tree that is the shining star of our property this spring.

young apple tree

young apple tree

apple tree blossoms

apple blossoms

apple blossoms

apple blossoms

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