Serenity Hill Homestead is growing some STUFF!
Let’s Grow Some Stuff
This year I decided to plant a few things at our rental place in town and try some natural gardening. There’s a smallish patch in the backyard that I’m going to fence to keep the dogs out. I’ve started Purple Russian Tomatoes that I received “free” for buying Pawpaw seeds. I also have a variety of red tomato started, along with jalapenos, cilantro, parsley, basil, thyme, oregano, and chives. Once I get those going, I may put in a few pole bean and zucchini if there is space. Basically an herb garden with possibly enough green bean and zucchini to keep us supplied.
We have selected an area at Serenity Hill where we are starting hugelkultur beds and a compost bin. We will develop those the next couple years and continue building up our compost. There is certainly no shortage of leaves and dead fall trees to put in a compost pile. I’m in the market for used wood chipper so we can mulch and compost branches instead of more burning. Hugelkultur beds provide us with a convenient place to use those materials instead of burning. Our backs will certainly appreciate not having to stoop!
Our Cat Is A Jerk!
Well, at least the male cat Boots is a jerk. Each repurposed plastic container began life with 5 tomato seedlings. (How is it we end up with no matching lids for containers? Are they hiding out with the missing socks?) Boots decided tomato sprouts are tasty and the dirt is fun for digging, so one container is minus a seedling. The weather has been down well below freezing at night, so putting them outdoors isn’t an option. Besides, the neighborhood strays would probably destroy them too. I began contemplating what I would build to protect my defenseless seedlings and had a eureka moment. We have and unused XL dog crate in the basement, complete with plastic tray to collect spills!
I dragged the crate upstairs and lovingly placed my seedlings inside. The top of the cage is a very convenient place to set my grow lights without having to construct some type of stand. Easy-peasy, and I didn’t have to spend any money. Perfect for the frugal homesteader.
Boots the Cat is not impressed. He now thinks that I am the jerk. Every night he sits down next to the cage and looks longingly at the seedlings. Soon he turns and frowns in my direction before plodding off to sulk. Sorry, not sorry!
Unfortunately, our wild blackberries were sacrificed during the process of clearing the debris out of the treeline so it could be burned. We only got a couple batches last summer and we were looking forward to more this year. So, I purchased 18 “tame” blackberry plants to put in their place. There are 3 varieties included, and each is supposed to yield in a different month. If all goes to plan, next June, July, and August we will have blackberries again. They include Chester, Triple Crown, and Arapaho Erect plants. I can smell the blackberry cobbler now!
I’m hoping for enough berries next year to be able to freeze a few, with increasing harvest in coming years. These will be planted out far enough from the tree line to get plenty of sun and provide access from both sides. Yes, I wimped out and bought thornless varieties, and I’m ok with that.
Apples to start an orchard on Serenity Hill Homestead. I like the idea of antique and heirloom varieties that aren’t available commercially, especially if they are varieties that have some natural disease resistance. The semi-dwarf trees will make them easier to pick and take up a smaller footprint. We have a place that will be perfect for apples. The apple varieties are Cox’s Orange Pippin, Orleans Antique, and a Stark Golden Delicious as the pollinator. If all goes well and I can keep the deer from eating the young trees, we should start having fresh apples in 3-5 years. Depending on our success with these trees, I may plant a few more in coming years.
Into the future
Asian pears will be next year’s project tree, and probably a few pecan trees. When we complete the house I’ll plant some grape vines to grow up the deck posts and train as shade over the deck. Then we will see if there is anything else that strikes our fancy and we decide to try. Kiwi and fig also intrigue me.
I started some Pawpaw seeds but won’t know for several more weeks if they sprouted successfully. Supposedly after about 3 weeks the seeds germinate and begin sending out roots. After 6-10 weeks they finally begin sending up shoots above ground. A lot of patience required for those! They will be planted in a shady area near ruts from an old logging road that seems to always stay damp. I haven’t eaten a Pawpaw since Boy Scout camp over 45 years ago! Sure hope they pan out.
Why Hugelkultur? And what is it?
Hugelkultur is a German term for hill or mound culture. Rather than planting directly into the soil, you create hills or mounds. The base of the mound is composed of layers of logs and limbs of various sizes. Generally start with the largest material on bottom and build up. Between and among the layers, fill the cavities with soil or mulch. When the final height is reached, put on a final layer of soil, mulch, and plant. Hills can be fairly small, or you can follow the example of Sepp Holzer, a hugelkultur guru, and make them as high as 7 feet! Anything that can be planted in soil can be planted in the soil on the hugelkultur mounds. Over the years the mounds will get shorter as the logs and limbs decay, but that can be made up for by adding compost and soil on top.
Benefits are many. One of the things that interests me is that I can take the existing deadfall, trees and brush that I have to remove and use them to build mounds instead of burning them. Over time, those trees will decay and become wonderful soil instead of adding to greenhouse gases by burning. The wood acts like a sponge and soaks up moisture instead of it all running down the hill and draining off. Hugelkultur aficionados claim that they rarely have to irrigate well established mounds except during the worst droughts. That is especially important if we decide to plant some things – like asparagus – prior to having our home ready for moving in.
Here’s the hippy talk part…
The mounds also create natural micro climates. One side will get more sun and one side more shade, so you can take advantage of that in your planting. The mounds trap heat and reduce risk of damage from frost. That warmth in spring helps speed up germination. Instead of making them nice and straight, you can curve them to direct water flow, take advantage of wind and sun patterns, and create natural walkways. Rather than having a boring garden with nice neat tidy rows, hugelkultur lends itself to companion planting and variation that makes the garden more aesthetically pleasing. I know, sounds like hippy talk, but why not have a garden that is a nice place to sit and have a cup of morning coffee?
The biggest advantage by far? Less bending and stooping! I’m all for that. We aren’t there yet, but we have a spot picked out and lots of leaves and half decayed wood composting. Over the next few months we will be adding material to build up our beds. Hopefully by next spring we will be at the point we can plant some asparagus. I’ll either add progress pics to this post or create a new article specific to hugelkultur.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Things Nobody Would Know If I Didn’t Tell Them…..
One of the ideals I’ve committed myself to on this blog is to share honestly. It won’t be all good. Mistakes will be made, hilarity and disappointment will abound. I’ll share it all, and I’ll try to learn from it so I can make new and different mistakes to share!