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  • Leaves: Blow or Rake?

    September 09, 2016

    When we lived in the city, stinky, loud gas-powered leaf blowers drove us nuts. Cheap, fly-by-night lawn companies seemed to constantly blow all sorts of crap throughout the neighborhood — never pulling out a rake to gather and dispose of whatever they blew into the gutter or onto the next door neighbor’s property.

    Raking Leaves

    Raking is great exercise! In small residential gardens, a rake is probably all you’ll really need to keep up with leaf detritus.

    When my elderly mom reported on her almost-daily leaf blowing chores, we were more appreciative of her use of leaf blower. She lived in a residential neighborhood. But, hers was on a slippery slope, in a deciduous forest that shed leaves for months. And, she used a relatively quiet electric, plug-in blower. She also used a rake to gather up her leaves to make compost.

    Using a leaf blower in a forest

    When you have acres of forest that sheds leaves from summer through fall, a leaf blower really helps keep on top of all the work.

    When we purchased a couple of partially forested acres with a lot of gravel paths, I knew we’d need to acquire a few gardening power tools. I really didn’t want to be mixing gas and toting around a heavy petrol-powered backpack blower. And, a corded electric blower would require a ridiculous number of extension cords.

    Blowing leaves off gravel path

    When using a leaf blower on gravel paths, take care to use low settings that don’t send gravel flying. Raking can work on gravel, but again, take care not to rake your gravel into your leaf piles.

    Fortunately, EGO brand just released a light-weight backpack blower with a rechargeable lithium ion battery. It’s new-to-market, but a few colleagues had good things to say about EGO’s hand-held blowers, so I rolled the dice, and ordered the backpack blower. (Garden Mentors paid for the Ego Power+ Backpack blower. Fiskars did supply Garden Mentors for the rake shown for trial use.  Garden Mentors is not being paid or otherwise compensated for this article, except for the free rake.)

    Lithium ion EgoPro Backpack Blower

    Battery powered leaf blowers are less polluting than gas ones. They don’t emit fumes & are much more quiet. Plus, they now come in lightweight backpack models!

    So far the blower is working great. It took just a couple of hours to charge the battery. It is easy to assemble, well, except for the blower tubes, which require stronger hands than I have. But, it was a one-time assembly job, so no biggie. It’s easy to put on and to carry. I wish the “on” trigger had a locking mechanism; it gets really exhausting to hold that thing on while you blow leaves for an hour or two. (It is easy to rig it into a locked position if you don’t mind bending the manufacturer’s “rules.”) The manual recommended ear protection, but I found the machine so quiet that I took mine off, and my ears weren’t ringing when I was done. I did bind up my long hair, wear tall boots, long pants & big sunglasses for body protection. I had garden gloves on most of the time too. My back wasn’t tired or shaky and my weak hands weren’t aching after blowing leaves for a couple of hours two days in a row.

    And, yes, it will blow for a few hours at a time — if you use a low setting. If you put it on high or use “turbo” often, it will run out of juice quickly. But, it will recharge quickly too.

    Leaves make great compost material

    Whether you rake or blow, be sure to save your leaves for creating luscious compost!

    Raking up stray leaves or mounding them into a compost heap is the perfect job while we’re waiting for that battery to recharge. Rakes are still an important part of our tool arsenal, but getting up mountains of alder and other leaves just wasn’t going to happen without a little Ego boost (pun completely intended).

    Now to decide if we really need to buy a chainsaw before winter. (Ego, if you’re listening, we’d love to receive one of yours to try out!)

    In the meantime, get out there and start gathering up your fallen leaves. Once those leaves pile up and get soggy, getting them relocated to your compost pile will be a lot more difficult — whether you’re raking or using a power tool. Rake early. Blow often. And, keep those manna-from-heaven leaves to feed your compost-hungry soil!

  • Autumn is Coming

    September 02, 2016

    August went out with one big, wet, raging Hurrah! in our garden — a sure sign autumn is coming. All-night lightening, thunder and raging downpours hammering onto our roof and surging into leaf-clogged gutters turned the calendar page from August to September.

    Abundant rain runoff

    When a heavy rain hits hard following summer’s drought, streams are easily overloaded. Not the case in this well-managed culvert.

    Remnants of the storm lingered in the early September 1st morning. Streams raced through downhill culverts. Below, a previously low pond now lapped at its brim. And, the scents of autumn had washed away the dirt-dry smell of a departing long, hot summer.

    Cutleaf blackberry fruit & fall color

    As summer turns to fall, blackberries may still offer fruit, but its likely to be pithy. But isn’t the leaf color lovely this time of year?

    We’re certain to revisit hot, dry days again before fall really arrives in earnest.

    Queen Anne's lace seeds

    Flowers transform into beautiful seed pods by late summer. Soon, a windy day will send these Queen Anne’s lace seeds far & wide to sprout next year & offer ideal breeding grounds for beneficial soldier beetles & other insects.

    But early storms and other harbingers of fall are a good reminder that soon it will be time to get new plants in the ground, renovate (or transition away from) lawn, rake leaves, plant spring bulbs, mulch and all those other tasks best completed in our all-to-brief autumns.

    Aster subspicatus Douglas aster

    Wild asters like this Douglas’ aster (A. subspicatus) blooming at the shore is sure sign summer is winding down.

    Right now. Drink in the last of summer. Harvest. Preserve. Play croquet. Take a walk to soak up all the late summer goodness around you. Watch for bird migrations beginning. Pick berries. Chase frogs. Have fun!

    wild crabapples ripening

    Tiny wild crabapples begin to flush color as they ripen in late summer. Soon cedar waxwings, starlings & other fruit-loving birds will flock to the trees & gorge themselves on these sweet morsels.

    And make your gardening plans to hit the ground running when summer really, truly, finally says good-bye.

  • Accidental Apple Chip Recipe

    August 26, 2016

    We’ve got a lot of delicious, crispy, dried apples in the pantry to enjoy this fall and winter. How they got to this ideal snap-crisp state was a happy accident that’ll be easy for you to repeat, on purpose.

    fresh apples to preserve

    Pick, buy or forage for apples like these Gravensteins in mid-summer to preserve at the peak of freshness!

    My new neighbor gave us several pounds of apples from her orchard, which I put into our dehydrator intentionally. I cored and sliced the apples about 1/4″ thick, spread them in single layers on the drying sheets, set the machine to 135F for fruit, checked the relative humidity (about 50%), and anticipated the slices would be leathery and ready to store in about 9-12 hours.

    What I didn’t count on was eating a bad oyster a few hours later.

    Raw oysters

    I’ve always loved raw oysters, but it may be quite a while before I slurp another ones of these down. Just looking at this photo makes me queasy!


  • Preserving the Season

    August 19, 2016

    This summer we’ll be preserving fresh food not harvested from our garden. Some years you just can’t rely on your own farm — large or small — to produce the foods you want to freeze, can or dry for the long winter ahead. We’re having one of those years.

    garden staged for sale

    In spring 2016, when we would normally be planting & harvesting, we were instead staging our home & garden for sale. And, we were saying good-bye to not-ready-to-harvest crops like this garlic patch.

    It isn’t that our crops failed. Rather, we just didn’t plant much in the way of a seasonal veggie garden. We were just too busy preparing our home for sale, buying a new home, packing, moving, repairing, unpacking & all that jazz — all in the midst of the annual seeding, sowing and early harvesting window. So here we are in August with just a few potted peppers and tomatoes, a single container with cucumbers, several potted herbs and a new field filled with enough blackberries to take over the world and feed an army.

    Fortunately, living in farm country means we have access to no-spray, locally grown, often organic (or at least transitional) foods, picked fresh from small farms. In fact, we’re pretty much eating a 20-mile diet comprised of locally grown producefish, grass-fed meats, dairy, and even eggs from our neighbor across the field next door.

    But, about the only thing we’ll be preserving from our own garden this year is those blackberries!

    homegrown harvest for preserving

    Most years we enjoy abundant homegrown harvest, fresh & for preserving.
    But, not this year.

    If your garden failed you or you just didn’t get around to planting it, now’s the time to discuss bulk buys with your favorite local farmers. If you don’t live in farm country like we do, visit your farmer’s market and ask about placing preserving orders. Many farmers will be happy to discount bulk buys, and if they offer better prices on their seconds, don’t snub the opportunity. Just get those very ripe goodies home and into your belly, canner, dehydrator or freezer right away.

    If preserving food is new to you, try some of the simple methods we’ve come to love for tomatoes, zucchini, basil, berries and more.

    Soon enough it’ll be planting time again, and it’s never too early to begin planning your future garden. Perhaps this time next year we’ll be discussing our new deer-proofed vegetable garden successes (or failures) or our forthcoming chicken coop or the perennial food forest we hope to install sooner rather than later. But, for now, I just need to figure out where I put the boxes with my dehydrator and canning supplies!

  • Watering Big Trees

    August 12, 2016

    Big, mature trees are going down hard this summer. Blame the drought last summer, blame a bunch of bugs, blame climate change or just get past the blame-game and start watering your stressed out big trees.

    Watering a Thuja plicata

    Slow, deep, repetitive watering under the cedars may help them through the summer. Just try not to soak the trunk of the tree while you’re at it.

    For years horticulturists and arborists have been coming to terms with the idea that we’re going to eventually lose many of our native trees. One of the first we expect to go is our beautiful western red cedar or Thuja plicata. And, other natives will probably follow this beauty’s lead.

    Recently, we hired New Leaf Arboriculture to help us with some of our biggest tree concerns, one of which was an enormous, multi-leader western red cedar. This gorgeous tree has lived through quite a bit of change, particularly in the last few decades. As recently as the 1980s it was one among many trees in an undeveloped forested wetland. Kids had a tree house in it during the 1960s and 1970s. Then, in the 1980s, much of land was cleared around it. And, eventually a large building was constructed adjacent to it. Then, because runoff had become an issue, much of the water that it (and its remaining neighbors) relied upon was rerouted into a county ditch. And, the ground above its uptake roots was carpeted in water-diverting beauty bark. It’s no wonder this tree was struggling!

    Sparse growth in crown of western red cedar

    Sparse green growth on the tops of these cedars indicates stress.

    Eric and Vance of New Leaf cleaned up much of the dead inside of this beauty and added safety cabling just in case it starts failing in wind or because of its many stresses. And, they reminded me:

    “Get some water on this tree!”

    So, the hose dragging has begun. It’s going to take a while to get a good amount of moisture to those feeder roots living inside a beauty bark prison, but by watering slowly and deeply and repetitively over the next several days, we hope to build a decent layer of moisture for this big beauty and two other western reds just up hill from it. It may take quite a bit of water, but frankly its worth the investment. And, once we build up a moisture layer, we’ll have to keep watering on occasion so that the feeder roots don’t dry out again during the long, hot, dry days that seem to be lasting later each year.

    Beauty bark water runoff

    We hate beauty bark! It has a number of problems including not absorbing water well & causing runoff issues. (Eventually, we’ll get rid of what we can under these trees, but for now, we just need to water more slowly to break through this dusty root prison.)

    Skip watering the dumb lawn. Let it go brown. But, don’t let the tips of those cedars brown out, indicating it’ll soon be a goner.

    This time of year many conifers do go through shedding some older leaves, and they can look a bit more sparse because of it. But too much loss means worse things to come. As cones on these Thujas turn golden in summer, after being green in spring, the transition can add on to the stressed look. Plus, heavy cone set can indicate that the tree is really stressed out. Cones = seeds, and a tree putting out a lot of seeds may be trying to replicate itself that way as a last ditch survival effort.

    Thuja plicata fruit

    Heavy cone set like this on a Thuja plicata can indicate the tree is extra stressed out.

    If your soil is dry, water. If the tops of your trees are sparse, water. If your big trees have heavy cone set, water. If your big trees are more yellow or brown than green, water. And, if in doubt, bring in an arborist for help evaluating your situation and setting a course of action toward preserving your precious trees (and costly investment) before it’s too late.

    (Oh, and this doesn’t just apply to big, mature native trees. Rhododendrons, exotic trees, young plants and just about everything in the garden appreciates a good dose of water in August and September!)

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