03 June 2011

Summer at Harambe Gardens

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted – Ben and I have been ever-busy with high tunnels, vegetable gardens, fish-composting (i.e. maggot farming), chicken-babies, plum trees, keeping dogs happy and away from chicken-babies, and the regular full-time jobs we otherwise have doing major house re-models (Ben) and outreaching to boaters and others to help protect Cook Inlet (me). Whew! So here I am, trapped at 30,000 feet on an Alaska Airlines flight to Charleston, SC. Being unable to attend to any of our various projects from this elevation, it’s a good time to update with some pictures of our progress!

chicken babies

First off, the chickens. I love them – is this any surprise? Well, to me it is a little since I’ve always felt a little squimish around adult chickens. Which is funny, since I’ve spent a decent amount of time handling wild birds and working on bird colonies…but there’s something about those chickens. Despite my slight misgivings about their adult-stage I really wanted eggs, and I really wanted chicks. And anyone who knows Ben knows he {hearts} eggs, so despite the work involved in building a coop, he was game. Mostly. And that’s all I needed to put an order in for 7 chickens with Wagon Wheel! YEAH! We both love them, and the dogs love them even more (their love is much more of a squeeky-toy/killer instinct kind)(we keep them very separated, except that once when Pemba almost got one..). We have 2 black stars (one of which will be named either Shaemus or Buddy – she reminds me of him in both coloration and narcoleptic tendancies, but those are true for most of the chicks), a red star (named magnolia by Ben), 2 golden-laced wynadottes, and 2 partridge rocks. No names for the rest of them yet, so if you have ideas send them our way! They eat out of our hands, peck around a ton, and are growing heaps of feathers. Did I mention I love them? I’ll post pictures soon (promise) of the coop-building process, including the fabulous chain-sawing done by Nola when she visited in March. THANK YOU, SARA SCOTT!!! (we miss you!)

Okay, on to the gardens. I also don’t have pictures right now of the fish composting project (aka maggot farming). They are worth sharing, and I’ll find them and post soon. You might notice the new bear fence around the composting area a few pictures down Thus far we haven’t caught a bear, just a dog or two….

brassica bed

So we’ve taken on building raised beds in the garden. It’s a HUGE improvement and makes me terribly happy. It took quite a bit of work, including re-tilling up the weird star-shape I made in the western beds last year. As lovely as a shaped garden area was (with 4 keyholes around a center), it really wasn’t cutting it. The grass was everywhere, the soil all sloped wicked badly, and covering things with row cover was a challenge. Back to rectangles! Yeah! This also makes our new and improved drip irrigation system much more feasible.


Here’s the set-up for the drip irrigation. There are definitely kinks to work out, but Ben is doing a fantastic job sticking all of the various pieces together into something that may actually water our garden on a timer. I was not born to be a plumber, and I’m thankful for those who are. This much I’ve learned through watching Ben on this and other plumbing-related projects.


For record-keeping purposes, we’ve named our garden beds. Thinking about family that we will miss this summer the beds are named (from top to bottom, then east to west): Felix, Jasper, Eliza, Calais, Kaleo, and Zee (we ran out of neices and nephews!). F, J, E, C, K, and Z for short. We’ll let you guys know how you all do this summer!

pea seeds

A couple of weeks ago we started planting seeds and some transplants from the house – it’s lovely to have some space back inside. The downstairs was a veritable jungle, with multiple shelves of baby plants all waiting for their big day out. Outside we have planted: 2 snap peas and a sugar pea variety, spinach (Tyee), Fordhook and rainbow chard, buttercrunch and romaine lettuce, nasturtiums, strawberries (Toklat, Sitka, and a kind from Anne that was developed in Palmer…can’t remember the name), purple, white, and cheddar cauliflower, brussels sprouts (Long Island Improved, I haven’t had much luck in past years but here I am trying again), red and white cabbage, broccoli, lacinato kale, mizuna and mustard, 2 types of carrots, onions, 4 different potatoes, 2 types of leeks (American Flag and Musselman), chioggia beets, mangels (an experiement for chicken food!), celery (Utah 52), parsely, dill, chamomile, cilantro, spearmint, a sea holly from Fritz Creek, livingston daisies, and some more ladybird poppies. I hope those seeds come up, I’m excited about them! And our small raspberry patch is looking good and wild as ever, though this year I’ve tried to contain it at least a little from it’s incredible spreading-tendancies. The rhubarbs are already flowering (Ben stopped that activity), and the wild roses, ferns, grasses, and weeds are all coming up right-on-schedule. Oh, and freaking horsetail is crazy this year! It’s way worse than I’ve seen in the past couple of years. It is what it is, though, and getting rid of it isn’t much of an option. So I just appreciate the silica-filled prehistoric stalks that pop up all over.

planting plums

My mom came over on a Sunday and spent the entire day with us, digging up hummocks (that job will NEVER be over, alas), raking in amendments, shaping beds, and helping to plant. We went out to Fritz Creek Gardens and picked up the 2 plum trees I bought! Yeah! Sapalta and Compass plums, and then are still looking good and smelling delicious. They’re the first trees I’ve ever planted, so let’s all cross our fingers! I also got a mock orange shrub (Philidelphus), a new lilac (the old one is lookin’ pretty rough, but Ben is sure it’s going to make it), a vining honeysuckle, a lovely rose bush, and some shade-y plants to put up by the house. The rose and the lilac still need to be planted out – a ‘mom task’ for while I’m gone this weekend!

plum trees

Okay, on to the high tunnel! Here we are in late-winter/early-spring. Plenty of snow piled up on the north side, but all in all it seemed to hold up pretty well.hightunnel_winter11

Spring forward to now – what feels like full-on summer. We have beds, irrigation, plants, a fully-decked bridge, a fan, music, and still some space to fill inside.P6020285

In March I was pretty sure that it just wasn’t going to happen on time. Ben warned me as I started seeds that I shouldn’t have too much optimism for planting out in the tunnel on any reasonable time-frame. And it’s true that I think in future years we’ll be able to plant out weeks earlier than we did this year, if not months for certain things. But as it is, it’s June 3 and we have pretty much all but 1.5 - 2 beds planted out. This is due to mucho time put in from Ben, and fabulously appreciated help digging beds out of the post-tunnel construction-rubble from Mikey, Blaine, and Chris.

P6020277 P6020278

Planted so far: 16 tomatoes, 4 different varieties, artichokes, sweet peas, fennel bulbs, 3 different varieties of sunflowers, slicing and pickling cucumbers (a LOT), a couple of zuchinnis, one winter squash (the only delicata that germinated), zinnias, calendula, snapdragons, salvia, salpiglossis, basil, thyme, oregano, french tarragon, lavender, anise hyssop, 3 bee balm (the only ones that germinated), echinacea, a few nasturtiums and marigolds around the tomatoes, nigella (love-in-a-mist), canterbury bells, and ladybird poppies. ummm….and I think that’s it, for now. A rosemary still needs to go out, along with the rest of the house-lavenders. Like I said – almost 2 beds left….what should we plant?!


We are lucky to have 3 temperature data loggers that are old ones from Sue’s research at work (check it out at Inletkeeper’s new fancy website!). Our quality control standards aren’t quite as strict as hers, and so the older and not-quite-so-exact ones work just fine for our little monitoring project. We have a logger in the tunnel (pictured above, with a home-made solar shield to keep it out of direct sunlight), one outside of the tunnel with a similar solar shield, and one 6” deep in the soil amongst the tomatoes in one of the tunnel beds. We looked at the data from late-March through early-May, and were surprised to see nighttime low temperatures lower in the tunnel than outside! Ben has some relative humidity/evaporative cooling theories, and although I’ve come across similar findings online I haven’t found any conclusive work that has explained this. Any thoughts? Let us know, and we’ll post more on the temperature monitoring when we have some more data.


Here’s Ben, standing in the door of the tunnel with the irrigation system set up behind him. Right now we have 2 ‘zones’, which means we can time the beds to be watered at different intervals and for different amounts of time. We have the other two attachments coming so we can set up all 4 zones for more effective watering.


And looking down the south side of the tunnel, you can make out the bulldozer in the grass, and our lovely shed (thanks to Jeff). Yeah for Harambe Gardens!! (and many thanks to the NRCS for funding these efforts!)