Spring Garden Projects

In addition to tilling and digging and raking and pruning the garden, planting the summer vegetables, tending to the yard and all the other things to do around here, Bruce and I have been working on a few special projects in our spare time.

The first project which is mostly done, I think, is the hoop house.  I think of it as a chicken coop, but it is a type of greenhouse.

“A hoop house is just what the name suggests, a series of large hoops or bows — made of metal, plastic pipe or even wood — covered with a layer of heavy greenhouse plastic. The skin is stretched tight and fastened to baseboards with strips of wood, metal, wire or even used irrigation tape and staples. You can build one for a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars.

A backyard hoop house can make it seem like you moved your garden hundreds of miles to the south. You can count on four to six weeks of extra production in spring and fall. By adding an inner layer of cover inside a hoop and picking cold-hardy varieties, you can grow right through winter — even in the coldest climates.  A hoop house usually has no heater or ventilation fan. It is heated by the sun and cooled by the wind, providing that you remember to open the vents in the morning and close them in the afternoon.”


Bruce had help, in March, from our friend, Jeffrey Jenks, and the house is now full of plants and some blueberry bushes.  I don’t have much to say about the labor on this project, but I know it involved a lot of measuring and leveling and trying to figure out how to keep the wind from blowing the cover away.  I think it looks grand, and the plants seem to love it.  For now Bruce is using it to transition plants from the regular greenhouse to the ground.  So the plants start as seeds in the greenhouse in late winter, get moved to the hoop house in the spring, and into the ground in late spring.


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The second project grew from Bruce wanting a way to label the plants out in the garden plot so we can easily see what we have.  We had gone to the Master Gardener once a year Trash to Treasures sale and I found a whole boatload of metal stakes which gave me a great idea.  I took the stakes, cleaned them up, taped off a section, painted them with one of three colors of nail polish, and wrote the name of one type of plant on each stake with a Sharpie pen.  I think they look splendid and they really stand out in the garden, plus they are easy to read.  If I remember correctly, I made eighty of these beauties!  Does that tell you anything about the size of Bruce’s garden?

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The third project may be the best of all.  Last year we went to a local place to pick strawberries.  I had read about this method of growing berries but hadn’t seen it until that day.  The berries are all grown in PVC pipes about 3-4 feet off the ground.  This makes for excellent strawberry picking!  We had intended to pick one or two pints, but we picked a whole flat and only stopped because the box was full.  So Bruce got to work and we now have our own “easy to pick” strawberry plants!  Bruce told me today that there are tons of berries on the plants, so with this recent hot weather, we should be picking in no time.  Yum!

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Bruce pounded the stakes into the ground which was a noisy job; He found a guy in town who welded the metal stands;

Bruce cut holes in the pipes and added the dirt and drip irrigation, and the plants, of course.

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You can just see the beginnings of berries; the all important drip irrigation runs through the pipe

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Those are the main projects so far for this year.  The barn still needs to be painted, but you know there is the rain and the heat and that holds up finishing that project!

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On the Hunt


Bruce and I went out one morning on the hunt for the elusive wild strawberry.  We had seen evidence of them in the woods, with the plants and blossoms, but had never seen any fruit.  Since there were blossoms in late April, I figured now was the time to find those berries!  We headed out from the house and walked straight into the woods.  We found a large patch of strawberry plants near the creek, but no fruit.  We knew there were more up by the road, so we headed up there.  On the way, we found a number of interesting things.

Strawberry Hunt-Deer Skull1  Strawberry Hunt-Lizard

Deer skull and antlers; lizard

Strawberry Hunt-Rose   Strawberry Hunt-Parentucellia viscosa-Yellow parentucellia

The roses are blooming all over; Yellow parentucellia

Strawberry Hunt8  Strawberry Hunt-Geranium richardsonii-richardsons geranium 

Oregon checker mallow; Richardson’s geranium

Strawberry Hunt3Triteleia hendersonii-Henderson's stars-rare Strawberry Hunt- Zigadenus venenosus-Meadow death camas-trichodes ornatus

Henderson’s stars (Triteleia hendersonii) (rare); Meadow death camas (poisonous), with Ornate Checkered beetle

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Chalcedona checkerspot; Western tiger swallowtail;

The Ornate Checkered beetle (Trichodes ornatus) is found only in North America.  Its worm-like larvae live mostly in bee nests of the Megachilidae family species, or Mason bees.  They are parasitic and in the nest they feed on bee larvae or pollen.  As adults, they feed on yarrow, milkweed or other yellow-flowered plants.  Since we have Mason bees and they are very beneficial to the garden and orchard, it was good that we found this insect and can take steps to manage it.  We have to remove the bee nesting materials from the orchard shortly before and immediately after the end of the nesting period and store them away from other nesting bees.  Commercial traps are available, consisting of a plastic container with a pheromone-impregnated capsule that attracts the beetles during the bee nesting period.

Wikipedia; http://insect.pnwhandbooks.org/sites/insect.pnwhandbooks.org/files/pdfsection/beeprotection.pdf

Livestock farmers know all too well the havoc Meadow death camas can inflict. It’s a favorite among sheep. Death camas, or Zigadenus venenosus, are native to western parts of North America. The toxic alkaloid zygadenine (considered by some to be more potent than strychnine) is present in all parts of the plant and can cause some serious consequences when ingested.  Elaine Nelson McIntosh, a dietitian and food historian, suspects death camas may have been to blame for the illnesses that plagued the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805. Food was scarce and the group was suffering from malnutrition. The Nez Perce tribe offered the travelers fish and bulbs of a plant they believed were blue camas. At the time, the plant wasn’t in bloom, making it hard to differentiate between it and its evil cousin. Soon after, the group fell violently ill for weeks. They ate their dogs to sustain themselves for the rest of the expedition.


After a short hike we came upon the second patch of strawberry plants and oh boy, we found the berries!  There were two and they were red and very small, but not very sweet.  That was disappointing and a lot of work for no reward.  I think we’ll leave them for the deer and other animals.

StrawberryHunt-Fragaria vesca-woods strawberry   Strawberry Hunt-Fragaria virginiana-Mountain strawberry

Strawberry Hunt-Strawberry