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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Going Vertical

This is what the central vertical pit looked like before digging commenced.

This pit began with a lot of weeds for green manure. Our neighbor Ron stopped by with a generous load of rotting pine. His timing could not have been better! I had the good fortune of a visit from the Tonasket Permaculture group planned for that same day... perfectly serendipitous timing. 

We were a small but hard working party of three and we got a lot done! This pit has the most pine of any, and it is on the bottom layer, where I'm most likely to use pine. However, if the pine is well on its way to being rotten, I've found it works well in any of the layers. In this photo, Jason is helping lay down the base layer of pine.

This work party happened in the fall of 2013, just as the first frosts were starting to claim some of the plants. It was handy to be able to use a lot of frosted or finished plants for green manure.

I took down my daughter's Mammoth Sunflower using my bow saw and here Jason is about to toss it in.

Lots of water in between layers...

Next a layer of horizontal spruce.

There was plenty of soil to work with, so we added a layer of dirt. 

And now for the vertical layer! This bed is an experiment that will allow plant roots to access the vascular tissues of the rotting wood more directly. A big thank you to Lee Johnson for bringing the exquisitely punky spruce that made this experiment possible. 

Why vertical? 

The theory is that placing the wood vertically allows the direction of the vascular tissues in the wood to help make moisture accessible to the plants' roots. If you picture the tubular structures of the xylem and phloem running lengthwise through the trees, it makes sense that the roots of your plants might more easily access water by growing into those structures, which are opened into cross sections when the logs are cut to length (like straws within the logs). Compare that with plant roots meeting the smooth natural edge of a log, and it seems feasible that the orientation of the log might make a difference. I haven't seen any scientific studies done to prove one method over the other, but someone did get creative in doing comparisons of wood orientation in large tubs: Also, if you look at John Elliot's video post on this thread:, you can also see how roots may like to grow in between the bark and the wood. Pretty interesting!
(Pasted from the comments section of another post, as it's relevant to this situation)

Here you see Jason and Barbara placing Alpaca manure on top of the vertical pieces, a beautiful dressing to use near the surface where plants can best benefit from the nutrients. (The Alpaca manure came from Chuck and Kathy Mowry on Nine Mile Ranch and can be purchased for $25/pickup load, loaded for you with a tractor). It is an incredible material to bring into your garden. I like to put a handful of it in with every transplant if I can! 

More plants for green manure and lots more water...

And a final layer of soil for planting into.

The following growing season, 2014:


And to recap...


(June 28, 2014)

Side note: It always seems like I have gargantuan amounts of path space in June... but somehow by August there is hardly any place to walk! So I must be on track. The bulk of the vertical spruce bed is planted with potatoes, which are interspersed with onion, cabbage, and marigold companion plants. Sunflowers volunteered throughout the garden and are a welcome addition in most places. 

I would like to put out a hearty thank you to the Tonasket Permaculture group for being involved, and particularly to Barbara and Jason for their hard work in helping build the central vertical spruce bed! What fun it is to work as a team. Thanks again!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Keep it Growing

Cultivating More Food at Both Ends of the Growing Season...

Earlier this spring, I was finishing up the final bit of last year's cabbage (grown in the garden of friends in Havillah), and I noticed that the base had sprouted roots. "Hmmm..." I thought. "Roots..." I could not resist, so I put it in a pot in the house and watered it. Soon after, leaves emerged.

Amazingly, the plant continued sprouting and has been growing robust yet tender leaves, a most wonderful surprise when the garden is just starting to take off. I think this is going to be a new tradition! It provides a great source for early spring foraging at salad-making time.

The cabbage head spent the winter in my fridge, and I ate from it throughout that time. Imagine this much life coming from a wee little root base! I am not concerned about getting another cabbage "head" -- I am more than satisfied with these wonderful leaves!

I have done this with celery also (planting the base after eating the rest of the plant), although the celery has never looked as vibrant as this cabbage does. 

And of course there is the joy of overwintering sweet peppers, and eating red ones mid-June! This is a lipstick pepper from Harris Dunkelberger's seed, when he had the Good Seed Company (local seed from Chesaw, WA).

*        *        *

I'm always looking for ways to extend the productivity of established plants. I was really happy with the celery last fall, which was growing in the aspen hugelkultur hotbed and continued to produce through the end of October (when the above photo was taken). It's an exciting process to see which plants can do well in early spring and into autumn, and where they seem to grow best. The aspen hotbed had many thousands of tons of manure and hay dumped into it along with the aspen logs, so it is undoubtedly my warmest garden bed. It's also at the south facing edge, and the hill drops off below it, creating more exposure to the sun.

Above is the part of the aspen hotbed bed in which the celery was growing, at the end of last summer.

It's good to think about the fall garden now, so that I can be sure to get seeds in the ground on time for the plants to be mature in September/October.

The swiss chard and daikon radishes also flourished in the autumn garden last year. I want to be sure to get some of both established for fall again this year!

What are your favorite plants for producing food at the extreme ends of the growing season?