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Gravens Gardens 2018 Garden Summary


Vegetable Garden

The tomatoes, peppers, corn, cucumbers, garlic, shallots, summer squash, and winter squash all did well this year.  The tomatoes yielded enough to provide all the spaghetti sauce and canned tomatoes we need and enough for our friend who harvested the early crop as we were out of town when the harvest started.  The paste tomatoes suffered from Blossom End Rot which caused 20% to 30% of the yield loss.  The plants themselves were the best I have grown since moving to Oregon.  This was the first year I laid down a heavy layer of horse manure on the coming year’s tomato and pepper rows in the fall and dug it in in the spring just before planting.  I did not have the massive weed problem I was worried might happen with this strategy.  More about that later.  I seeded the tomatoes on March 15 and planted early in May.  The tomato plants were leggier that I would have liked but they grew very well, just hard to plant.

Peppers were great this year, great plants, heavy yields, and little or no disease or insect damage.  We froze 15-1 gal. bags, and several of our friends harvested all the peppers they wanted.  All in all, a great pepper year. I seeded the peppers on March 11 and planted early in May, the peppers were perfect sized for planting and took off.

The melons were a disappointment this year.  I seeded melons early in April. They germinated well and were up potted.  After I planted them out in the garden they failed to thrive. I direct seeded to get them to go, they failed to germinate, I reseeded in the greenhouse and planted the starts in the garden and they took off.  With all these delays, the plants were planted late in the season and I did not get many melons.

Finally, the garlic and shallots produced nicely.  I sold about 50 lbs. of garlic and 10 lbs. of shallots to a local gourmet pizza place and they want to buy 150 lbs. of garlic next year!  This would almost pay for the gardening hobby.

Berry Patch

The blackberry row produced very well this year.  This was the second production year for the blackberries. The first year production was minimal; this year the product was much better as the plants are getting stronger.

The raspberry row produced well for the second year.

The blueberries produced well, even though they seemed to take a long time to get ripe.  The plants are a few years old and starting to produce.

The strawberries not produce as well as I would have liked.  They are being grown in a 6-inch pipe planter with a drip line.  I wonder if I am over watering them as the plants are not all that big.  Growing strawberries in a pipe planter makes for easy maintenance and harvest.  I am thinking about adding a second row to get the yield we would like.



The cherries were good this year. We erected a bird net enclosure over the two older trees and baited the rodents, which improved the yield.  Both sweet and sour cherries produced very well.

The apples were a disappointment. We seem to be in an alternating year for apple production, with a heavy year following a light year.  This was the light year and the yield was close to zero.  The Gravenstein had a normal yield, while the Melrose, Golden Delicious, Winesap, and Granny Smith produced very poorly.  We also had some very cool late spring temperatures that I am certain reduced the yields.  The 12 trees I planted two years ago are growing well, but not mature enough to product fruit.  This year I will be planting 11 trees that I plan to espalier.  They are grafted on M7 dwarf stock.  I plan to create a 4-level espalier which should product well.

lower espalier line

upper espalier lime


Pear yields we down as well. Maybe due to the cold spring temperatures.  Scab problems persisted even with aggressive windfall fruit clean up and dormant spray regiment.

Plum yields were low and mostly lost to critters (most likely racoons).

Finally, the peach tree was mature enough to have a small yield which became ripe while we were on vacation. Our friend enjoyed that fruit.

Vegetable Garden soil improvement effort:

When we moved here I started a massive double digging effort, working about 70 cubic yards of compost into the 7000 sq. ft. garden to a depth of about 2 ft.  A few years ago I secured access to a good supply of fresh horse manure and started working that into the garden.  There are two main concerns with using manure, application to harvest timing, and weeds.  I apply the manure in the fall’ mainly to five rows in the upper garden and two rows in the lower garden to a depth of about 18 inches, finishing late in October. If it dries out enough to till during the winter, I will till the manure rows mid-winter.   When the ground dries out enough in the spring I till the manure in well before planting.  I plant tomatoes and peppers into three of the upper garden manure rows and in late September the following year garlic and shallots into the remaining two rows.  With my rotation schedule, the upper garden gets the manure treatment every other year.  I plant winter squash into the lower garden manure rows.  With the lower garden rotation, those rows get the manure treatment every fourth year.  Weed seeds in the manure sprout in the winter providing a robust cover crop of nasty weeds, which get tilled in.  I would expect more seeds to sprout during the season, but actually, it is quite minimal.  I think is due to my use of t-tape irrigation which is a subsurface drip irrigation system which results in a very dry soil surface.

Fall Vegetable Garden clean up:

Below you see most of the upper garden with two 60-ft rows of garlic and shallots. These are planted on either side of 4 t-tape irrigation lines placed on 16-inch spacing. The cloves are planted on either side of the t-tape on 6-inch centers.  This gives me 16 60-ft rows of garlic and shallots on 6-inch centers yielding about 2000 plants if everything comes up.  My goal is 200 lbs.  The row between the garlic rows are for peas and onions.  The bright yellow is asparagus. In that row there are some kale and fennel; the far row are herbs.  Between the garlic and the asparagus you see the manure mounded on three rows.  I also put all of the garden waste except the tomato and pepper plants on these rows.

Upper Garden

Below you see most of the lower garden. The dark rows at the far end are the two manure rows, which I was able to get tilled in.

Lower Garden

Tomato and pepper clean up will be completed after the fruit rots, falls off, dries up.  I will cover two of these rows with manure and all of the tomato and pepper waste.  This will be tilled in in the spring. The two rows on the left will be for cucumbers and green beans next year and the two rows on the right will be planted in garlic and shallots late September next year.


Compost storage:

In the past, I would order 15 cubic yards of compost from DC Co-op, which would be delivered in a big pile.  With the manure source, my need for compost is reduced so I decided to build a 3 cubic yard enclosure and haul the compost in my truck dumping it directly into the enclosure.  A friend of mine suggested that I put some of the manure in the enclosure and create my own compost.  What you see below is the enclosure made of concrete blocks and reclaimed boards.  There are two yards of compost in there covered with a third yard of manure.  The manure was dry so I have the top open.  Once we get a fair amount of rain I will cover the enclosure and let it cook until spring.  With luck this will work and I will have a nice pile of compost.

Compost Storage


As the 2018 garden comes to a close, and I am trying to get my notes completed (wish I was better at keeping notes during the season), inventory my seeds (dumping stale seeds), making the list of seeds I need to order, and adjusting my seeding and planting time tables, I think about what went well, what went poorly, and what was just too much work and how to avoid doing that or at least make the work easier.  Most importantly, I remind myself that the garden is a fun way to fill my summer days.


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Last year I decided to try something new, because I was depressed about the rampant discord in our country and the massive amount of rancor (a feeling of deep and bitter anger and ill-will) coming from so many people in this country, who I really thought knew better.  My decision was to try and be mindful of the good in life and make a record of it on little 3X3 pieces of notepaper.  Every time something nice, good, wonderful, interesting, funny or weird happened I would write it down, fold it up and toss it in a jar.  Hopefully, at the end of the year I would have a jar full of happy memories to prove to myself that something good did happen during the year.

The following is a mix of the best of my written and photographic recordings of the past year.

January 1, 2017–Happy New Year’s!  It snowed today!

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January 4–I went on a photowalk around the farm in the freshly fallen snow.  Such a different, serene view!

January 5–Saw two coyotes in the Morgan’s cow pasture this morning.  We often hear the coyotes howling at night, but never see more than one or two in the daytime.


January 24–Went out for pizza and beer with Janice Barthlomew and her mom at Abbey Pizza.  Good times!  (Abbey Pizza benefit for the Sigl family’s loss of wife and mom.)

January 24–Saw the elk two times today.  It’s a big herd with young.  The herd was much more visible this year with more young than usual.


January 25–I brought Matrimonial bars to the SIG event (Spring Into Gardening) and a man sought me out to ask  for the recipe…for something I baked!

January 26–Sun is shining!  Temperature got up to 85 degrees upstairs.


January 27–There were some interesting wave-shaped clouds over the mountains just before sunset.  These, I found out later, are called  Kevin-Helmholtz wave clouds.



January 30–Started an on-line photoshop course called Photoshop Artistry, which makes art from a collage of photos.

January 31–Today I FIXED my computer, after breaking it last week.  Installed the correct Wacom TAB DRIVER so the mouse works again and figured out that MS Edge will let my Wacom Pen work with Adobe Flash!  😀


February 23–First wine and food pairing class with Diane of Delish with Diane.  Lots of fun, wine and good Caesar Salad!  This was a six-week course and every week we had something delicious to eat, great wine, and lots of laughs.

March 1–Laura got a big raise and a new title!  😀

March 2–Saw a Bald Eagle early this morning–he landed on top of a tree in the cow pasture.

March 12–Lovely warm day spent weeding and trimming.  Saw the elk herd in the pasture.


March 25–Joined an interesting group–The Cloud Appreciation Society.

The Cloud Appreciation Society was founded by Gavin Pretor-Pinney from the United Kingdom  in January 2005. The society aims to foster understanding and appreciation of clouds, and has over 42,000 members worldwide from 115 different countries, as of January 2017.  Yahoo named the society’s website as “the most weird and wonderful find on the internet for 2005”. The group and its founder were the focus of a BBC documentary Cloudspotting, based on Pretor-Pinney’s book The Cloudspotter’s Guide.  (Wikipedia)

Upon joining, I received a certificate (member 43,001), a nifty enamel pin and a Cloud Selector Identification Wheel, plus every day they send me a photo of an interesting cloud formation with an explanation of what it is.  I don’t remember why I joined, but I have been enjoying it immensely.  You too can join at https://cloudappreciationsociety.org/

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April–NO MFP Training!  😀  (Sorry Sara R.)

April 15–April, the giraffe, had her baby!  Too cool.  Live video was posted by the zoo and many, many people invested many, many hours waiting for that baby’s arrival.

April 16–Alternate Universe–There is a Sabbath setting on the refrigerator.  The panel stops working=NO WATER!  Happy Easter!


April 19–A pheasant came to visit us–very friendly.  We bought it some food and haven’t seen it since.


May 1– Last day of Delish with Diane.  A lady in the class, who homeschools, asked me to teach art to the kids in her homeschool group.  Nice to be asked, but I turned her down.

May 7–Going to Ireland!


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May 25–Home from Ireland!  We had the best time–two and a half weeks of a perfect vacation.  We drove from Dublin clockwise around the entire island and ended in Dublin.  The people of Ireland are very friendly and the scenery is gorgeous.

We found Smithwick’s ale to be the best in Ireland and at a Slow Food Festival near the Cliffs of Moher I won a bottle of Irish Peat Wine as a door prize.  Hmmm…it didn’t taste like peat though.

June 27–Started pottery class–great fun!  Started on a slab cup and attempted a pinch pot.


July 1–Bruce was the cover boy (with article inside) for our local electric company’s magazine, Ruralite. 


July 10–Finally finished a pastel painting.  The subject is a photo that a friend posted on Facebook.  Next painting up is a photo I took in Ireland of a mama pig and piglets in a barn.


July 17–I found my Photoshop Brushes that I thought were lost forever!  Oh, Happy Day!  Also, 7-17-17, all the sevens, and my Grandmother’s birthday.

July 26–Threw my first pot on the pottery wheel.  Short cylinder, difficult to do, but fun!


July 27–Bruce installed new sun covers for the kitchen and greenhouse/conservatory.  They are very nice and keep the kitchen much cooler!

August 15–We planted a peach tree in our orchard and got a small but very delicious crop this year.  These are Elberta peaches.


August 21–Today I’m sure that Laura bought us a fine bottle of Port in Porto, Portugal!  Yum!  😀  (update Christmas 2017–I was right!)

August 21–Total Solar Eclipse Day!  We had about 97% totality.  It got as dark as it does at dusk.

August 22–The glaze on my coil pot came out just the way I wanted it.  Yahoo!


August 24–We have a beautiful new marble countertop in our bathroom!  The second photo is the previous countertop.  We also put in new fixtures and a spiffy shower door.

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August 28–Laura made it home safely from trip to Portugal/Spain and had a great vacation!

September 7–Smoke has cleared and skies are blue–partially.  Air smells sweet.  😀     The fires were fierce in Oregon this summer and we mostly avoided the smoke until the end of summer when the winds shifted and we were enveloped in a cloud of smoke for weeks.  It made for some interesting photography, though.

_MG_9039Morning sun


_MG_8859Afternoon/evening sun

November 15– Pottery class is winding down for the holidays.  This is my favorite piece since we began.


December 14–I finally figured out how to use the Scan Function on the printer to make it put the image on the computer! 😀

In the end, this project was a good decision on my part–I didn’t always have something good to write, but when I did, I mostly remembered to write it down and it was fun reading all the notes at the end of the year.  Some things I remembered and some were a good jog to the memory and some things were silly, but still good.  Best of all, it reminded me that in spite of it all seeming like life is awful, there are still many, many good things that happen too.  I have no trouble remembering the bad that happens and dwell on it too much, but now I have a way of keeping happy alive.

I wish you all a year of many happy memories!

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Gravens Gardens 2016 Summer Garden


This has been a less than uplifting garden season for Gravens Gardens.  Between the apple trees going on strike, over-watering everything, the ground squirrels eating not only the initial round of spring plantings but the second round, the voles digging up and eating the pea and bean seeds, and the jackrabbits eating the broccoli’ it has been a depressing’ losing battle in the garden. Oh, and with one tree after another dying from the 2014 – 2015 drought, I kept telling myself if was too easy I would not have to learn anything and this life would become boring.  No, that did not help at all it was just depressing.


Berry Patch.

We completed the berry patch at the beginning of the year.   It is a 2500 sq. ft. space completely bird netted.  I planted 40 ft. rows of blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries.   There is enough room to add a second row of each if we decide we need more of any of these.  Most of the plants were just planted this year so we did not get a great harvest, but I am very hopeful for a great 2017 harvest.  The strawberries are a year old and did great and I am thinking a second row might make sense.  We will see how the 2017 harvest goes before we decide.  The seams in the bird netting are held together with ½ PVC pipes and clips.  I am planning to sow the seams and get rid of the pipes, making the look of the patch cleaner and hopefully resulting in a tighter seal against the birds that love those berries.  I had the same over-irrigation problem as with the rest of the garden which may have made some of the blueberries tasteless.  I have to sort out some kind of trellising system for the blackberries and raspberries.



The apple trees did go on strike this year.  Most of them just did not put on much, if any, bloom.  I am blaming not thinning them combined with two years of drought.  It was just too much stress and they are taking a break.  I changed the irrigation scheme over to a drip system that delivers 25 gallons per hour with little evaporation.   I set up the system to supply an average of 50 gallon per day per tree.  The trees look a lot better, but with no fruit to support that is expected.  I planted 7 more apple trees that I grafted a year ago and will plant one more this winter.  This brings the orchard to 15 apple trees.  One of the European plum tree failed this year; luckily I had planted two more European plum trees so with this loss I still have three European plum trees.  The one producing European plum had a nice crop of plums, which we canned, froze and dried.   The Asian plums produced well this year as well.  They were eaten, jellied, and canned.  Our sour cherry tree, although small, produced well and with the bird netting we had a nice harvest.  We supplemented the cherry harvest with cherries from the Brosi and Guido orchards. Finally, the pear trees did great.  We had an overabundance of all of the pears.  I would like to get a couple more pear trees.


Vegetable garden.

The good news is the tomato and peppers did great!  I planted 160 tomato plants from 41 varieties this year.  This included 8 varieties of Master Gardener trial paste tomatoes. I am looking for a replacement of the Super San Marzano variety, which has become very hard to locate.  Unlike last year, there was very little Blossom End Rot (BER) this year.  I hesitate to assign cause, but I noted that I double dug the rows the fall before and loaded up on compost and lime.  I also covered the paste tomato row with row cover, which the wind tore up before the summer was over.  I have a new design for holding the row cover up that I will try next year.  We made 15 quarts of tomato sauce, 20 pints of canned tomatoes, 10 cups of tomato powder, and froze 40 lbs. of whole tomatoes.  The peppers did well this year, with 144 plants of 44 varieties; we had lots of peppers.  The row cover did a great job of eliminating sun scald.  We froze 8 gallon bags and dried and ground Aleppo, Ancho, and Espelette peppers.  The asparagus continued to produce well.

The rest of the garden as I mentioned earlier was a struggle.  I got a good crop of winter squash, mostly from volunteers, the ones I planted three times were either eaten by the ground squirrels or planted too late to produce.  This was the same for the melons.  Sweet corn did not grow all that well and was not well pollinated, but what we picked and cooked was delicious.  I did manage to get green beans, zucchini, and cucumbers to go on the third planting.  The zucchini did very well and demonstrating how well succession planting of zucchini can work.  The cucumbers and green beans did OK but getting such a late start has really limited the harvest.  Peas, broccoli, cauliflower, and eggplant were a total loss.  I am hoping for better luck next year.

In preparation for next year, I am double digging the three rows where the tomato and peppers will be planted. In the pepper row I filled the trench with raw horse manure, which will age all winter and be covered in the raised bed when things dry out in the spring.  If I double dig three of the rows in the old part of the garden each year I will maintain three year cycle.  In the new garden area, I am filling in the paths with horse manure, which will age through the winter as well.  I will be spreading the ash from my wood burning stove as well as lime on the manure to counteract the acidity of the manure.  In the spring I will till that all in and incorporate it into rows.  This is all in an effort to get more organic material into the clay soil.  In this new section of the garden I am on a 4 year cycle of double digging.  In addition, I leave two rows fallow each summer so I can plant winter broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower in September, without having to pull something out prematurely, to make room.


Tomato variety list:

Black Krim, Brandywine from Croatia, Dr. Neal, Florida Pink, Gregori’s Altai, Hillbilly Potato Leaf, Kellogg’s Breakfast, Kentucky Beefsteak, Mary Robinson’s German (bicolor), Pruden’s Purple, Stupice, True Black Brandywine, Virginia Sweet, Yellow Brandywine

Black Cherry, Sun gold, Sweet 100, Isis Candy

Amish Paste, Anna Russian, Cuore Di Bue, Ernie’s Plump, Federle, Fireworks, Goldman’s Italian American Paste, Grandma Mary’s Paste, Howard German, Hungarian Heart, Hungurian Italian, Italian Red Pear, Jeff’s Plum, Jersey Devil, Opalka, Polish Linuisa, Pozzano, San Marzano, San Marzano Gigante 3, San Marzano La padino, Sausage, Speckled Roman, Super Italian Paste

Tomato varieties to be dropped in 2017: Fireworks, Grandma Mary’s Paste, and San Marzano.

Tomato varieties to be added in 2017: Umpqua Paste.  (Locally developed large paste)


Pepper variety list:

Bhut Jolokia SCC, Big Bomb, Habanero Saint Jacobs, Hinklehatz Yellow, Jalapeño, Manzano Orange, Manzano Red, Piquin, Santa Fe Grande, Serrano, Szentesi, Thai Hot Black, Trinidad Scorpion

Aleppo, Ancho 101, Baby Pepper Chili, Chilhuacle Negro, Guajillo, Mariachi, Padron, Paradicsom Alaku, Pasilla Bajio, Urfa Biber,

Ancient Sweets, Belecski, California Wonder Orange, California Wonder Red, Chervena Chushka, Coral, Corno di Toro Giallo, Corno di Toro Rosso, Cuollarici, Early Sunsation, Espelette, Garden Sunshine, Giallo di Cuneo, Karma, Marconi Golden, Marconi Red, Orange Bell, Petit Marseillais, Quadrato d’Asti Rosso, Romanian Gogosari, Wisconsin Lakes

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Party Time!

We have a place in the vegetable garden that has been evolving since before we moved here, almost two and a half years ago.  It started many years ago when I decided I would like to grow blueberries in the back yard.  Bruce said, well, they don’t grow here.  I said, well, we could give it a try.  So we did give it a try and we were very successful!  We had 4 high bush plants to start with and then Bruce started some trials with the Master Gardener group.  He wanted to find out if people living in spaces with very little light, as in an apartment, could grow the berries in a planter.  He planted 70 bushes at the MG garden and we had several bushes placed around the house, in the ground and in planters.  We always had blueberries, either fresh or frozen.  When we moved here to Oregon, Bruce trucked up all the blueberries plants that  were in the planters and placed them out near the vegetables.


Growing blueberries in California is a bit different than growing them in Oregon.  Firstly, I suppose it’s because we had blue jays in California and none here, but in California the birds never ate the blueberries.  Here, they eat them like candy.  I read somewhere that blue jays don’t like blueberries, or apparently, other birds.  We ended up having to cover the berries in bird netting which was mostly successful.  Secondly, in California, when the berries get ripe you need to get out and pick them or in a few days they will be soft and not good for eating.  Here, they last quite a long time on the bush, so if you get busy (or sick) they will wait for you.  At least, they did the first year.  We’ll see about that as we go along.  The first year here, I was sick and didn’t pick them for a month and figured the crop was a total waste.  But no, they were there waiting for me, just as delicious as always.

Our first year here we went on the hunt for strawberries and found a few places with so-so fields.  The people are very honest here in Oregon.  The field can be miles away from the vendor, but there will be a sign at the field telling you to pick as much as you want and then drive to the farm stand and pay for them.  I can tell you that they would never get paid in California.  At any rate, we found a very nice place, The Berry Patch, which puts their strawberry plants in large PVC pipes about 4 feet off the ground.  All you have to do is stand there and pick the strawberries–no more stooping in the dirt!  We thought that this was genius and set about implementing this in our garden.  Bruce figured out how to do it and put it in last year.  The crop was small last year, but this year we are harvesting a large crop.


Well, we would if we could keep those birds away.  They love strawberries too!  So, the next plan was to put netting around the strawberries, which was more of an undertaking than the blueberries, because of the size.  And why put up netting for just one kind of berry?  Bruce decided to map out an area to the south of the vegetable patch where the strawberries are and set up the blueberry planters in addition to planting a row of blueberries, a row of raspberries, and a row of blackberries.



As you can imagine, this is not a small berry patch.  The problem was how to cover it all with netting.  Of course, Bruce had a plan, but there were numerous problems, which were all overcome for the most part.  He hammered metal poles into the ground in a big square shape around the berries and then attached small PVC pipes to the corners and in a square around the top, as a type of scaffolding.  He, with help from his niece’s husband, put the netting over the top and sides of the pipes.  The netting is not very wide so it needed to be attached at various points to keep from gaping open and letting the birds in.  It looked great when they finished!

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Berry patch enclosed with netting

The next week, when the strawberries were finally ripening, we found birds inside the netting every day.  Bruce bought a fishing net to scoop them out–no photos of that, but it was like a comedy routine.  He bought more clips and finally got all of the gaps closed.  We don’t get birds in the berries any more, a fact they insist on telling us about every morning!

The next problem with the berry patch was the weeds!  We have killer weeds here in Oregon, and I am convinced that we live on a giant mound of weeds.  The weeds will grow higher than the plants and if you don’t go after them, you will never see the flowers blooming.  I went out one day this week when it was cool and a bit rainy and once and for all (maybe) tackled those weeds.  It took me seven hours with help from Bruce to get rid of all the weeds just around the berry rows.  Oh boy, it looks so nice now, and it’s fun to go out and pick the berries without having to look at weeds!

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1. Before weeding    2.  Same place, after weeding  

3.  The tools of destruction–notice the very important “bionic” gloves”.  

I’ve had these gloves about two weeks

I have considered doing a separate post about the weeds here.  There are so many varieties and they all seem to have a different method of survival and propagation.  We have one in the flower garden that holds onto its seeds until you touch it and then seeds fly ALL over the place.  The weeds are interesting from a botany point of view, but I would rather not have to deal with them on such a personal basis.  The best thing that I can say about them is that they provide me with a great form of exercise!

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1. Doesn’t this plant look lovely?  2 & 3. This is what it does–starts in one place, travels around and wraps itself around everything!

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1. I colored this weed pink to show that it is as tall as the raspberry bushes.

2. This weed is bigger than my foot

3. Look at that taproot!

4. This weed clumps together with its friends, making it very difficult to pull out

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Some critters who came out to keep me company–a very tiny, about 1-inch long, frog, and I’m guessing a centipede

As you can see from the photos we will have massive amounts of berries in the coming years.  What to do with them all?  First, you just eat them raw…until you are tired of them.  Then you can lay them out on cookie sheets, freeze them, and then bag them up in ziplock bags.  These will last throughout the year to be used as a topping for yogurt and cereal or baked into muffins or other desserts.  Third, you can make them into jam.  So far, we have made strawberry jam with balsamic vinegar and black pepper, and strawberry jam with Marsala and rosemary.


Strawberry jam with Marsala and rosemary

 We used the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook as a guide and the jam tastes just like the very best fresh strawberries-the best we’ve ever had.  I’m not a fan of fresh raspberries, but I’m looking forward to making raspberry jam and if we get a large enough crop I’ll freeze some for desserts.  We have a friend who freezes her raspberries and makes Raspberry Chocolate Jam all year to sell at the local farmer’s market.

There is nothing better than having a strawberry patch in your own back yard for chasing away the winter doldrums and heralding the beginning of spring.  Strawberries seem to be nature’s way of saying, Let the party begin!


 Let’s Party!


Summer of 2015 Garden

The major 2015 projects were establishing a program of crop rotation and double digging the vegetable garden, establishing a berry garden, and adding to the fruit orchard and table grape vineyard.

With the help of a new tiller,

Summer 2015c

I was able to start the effort of double digging the vegetable garden and establishing the berry garden.  I have decided to double dig the two tomato rows, the pepper row, and the two potato rows each year.  With my rotation schedule, this effort will result in the total garden getting double dug every 3 to 4 years.

My process for the tomato and pepper rows is to use the tiller to break down the old row, then dig out the loosened soil and run the tiller through the trough and repeat, until I have removed the soil down at least 12 inches below grade.  I then use the digging fork to break up the soil a few inches lower.  I run the tiller through the trough again, lay down 6 inches of compost, and run the tiller again. Finally, I put 3 inches of compost on the soil that was dug out of the trough, run the tiller to mix the compost with the soil, and start filling in the trough to create the raised row.  I continue this until I have a tall row and the walkway on either side is at least 6 inches below grade.  This makes for a significantly high row of soil that over the winter settles a bit and regains some of its previous soil structure.


I plant a cover crop of cole plants and fava beans to help with the process and to provide a little bio-fumigation to kill off some pathogens.  For the potato rows, I follow a similar process but do not fill in the trough until the potatoes start to grow.  The good news is that this effort eliminates the need for a gym membership.

We established a berry garden this summer.  This garden currently consist of a 40 foot long row each of blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries.  The rows are on 14 foot centers.  This leaves room to add a second row of each type if we decide we want more fruit.   The strawberries are being grown in a 6-inch PVC pipe with 4-inch holes drilled at 6-inch spacing.  The pipe is balanced on a t-post at a comfortable picking height. This keeps the fruit clean and easy to pick.  I plan to enclose the entire 70’ x 45’ plot in bird netting once I come up with a good plan.  I have a fence company quoting a galvanized pipe enclosure and am working on a t-pipe and rope idea as a backup.


We planted 10 new table grape vines and I am starting a few more.  This year we were able to freeze a good bit of the fresh grapes and harvest 10 gallons of the juice.  When these new vines come into production we will be awash in grapes.

Summer 2015b _MG_0839 (1) _MG_1648 (1)

We added two Asian plum, a peach, a filbert, and 3 cherry trees to the orchard.  We currently have 7 apple trees, 5 of which produce all the apples for our apple cider pressing event.  This year we collected about 35 bushels of apples which we pressed into 57 gallons of apple cider.  I have grafted 12 new apple trees that I plan to plant this winter.  When these get into production we should produce a good quantity of apples and cider.

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The remaining infrastructure projects on the short list include completing the greenhouse, building a small cold frame, finishing painting the barn, and building a deck on the front and potentially back of the barn.  In the orchard we are planning to add two more European prune, three more pear, one more peach, one more cherry and three to four pecan trees. With these projects completed, all of the major infrastructure projects and expansions will be complete.  I fear these expansions will have created more work in maintenance, harvest, and preservation than I will want to do, but that should put a cap on my expansion efforts.

Summer 2015a   Summer 2015

The vegetable garden was just okay this year.  I had a few problems with getting the rows ready in time and with my starts not growing as well as I would like, so most things got planted later that I would have liked.  The result of this was less fruit on the melons and winter squash, late ripening peppers, and the worst case of blossom end rot I have ever seen on my tomatoes.  I initially blamed the blossom end rot on the double digging, thinking I had mixed up to much acidic subsoil and had not applied enough lime, but a soil test has disproved that theory.  The soil test came back good on most counts with a bit too much phosphorus and too little magnesium.  I do not think either of these can be the root cause of the blossom end rot, so I am back to the normal causes of water and heat.  I will just have to be more attentive next year.  In the end, we got enough tomatoes to meet our needs, but not the overabundance we are used to.  Zucchinis, cucumbers, onions, garlic, shallots, and leeks all did great!  This is my first year to grow sweet potatoes, cardoons, and artichokes.  The artichokes should fruit next year, the cardoons are doing great, but we are not big fans of eating them.  I have not harvested and cured the sweet potatoes yet but have dug around enough to know there are a good number of tubers.

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cauliflower; cardoons; cucumbers

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Gravenstein apples; garden mix; garlic

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Paste tomatoes; dried beans; leeks

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potato plants; fennel

Changes for next year:

  • Get the garden and starts ready for early plantings and plant as early as the weather will allow.
  • Dig a bit of fertilizer and dolomite lime in to each tomato and pepper hole
  • Get the starts out of the germination box and into the small greenhouse as quickly as possible.
  • Plant more large size paste tomato varieties.  I am planning to run a bit of a “large paste tomato” trial.
  • Plant more Virginia Sweet and True Black Brandywine tomatoes.
  • Plant more Aleppo, Belecski, Corno di Toro, and Espelette peppers.
  • Plant Costata Romanesco zucchini.


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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Garden Project24 Garden Project21 Garden Project20

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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GardenProjects1  GardenProjects


GardenProject13  GardenProject11

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!

GardenProjects9 GardenProjects8 GardenProjects5

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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Garden Project29 Garden Project28

Garden Project27 Garden Project25

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

Garden Project1 Garden Project3 Garden Projects2

Garden Project30

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!


Time to Prune

On our farm we have many fruit trees, apple, plum, prune, pear, cherry (sweet and sour), persimmon, grape and quince, approximately 25 trees.  Last year we moved here too late to prune any of the trees, but in spite of that, most of them produced a good amount of fruit, especially the apples.  This year we decided we had to prune, because the trees were getting out of shape, and they just needed some care.  Not being the Master Gardener of the family, I don’t know anything about pruning, or even if it is really necessary, but it was something new to learn.  Bruce has had quite of bit of experience with pruning fruit trees, as he was in charge of a small orchard in California, associated with the Master Gardeners.

I actually do have some experience with pruning, it’s just not applicable to fruit trees.  My method is to get an electric hedge trimmer and chop off all the new growth of any bush that dares to grow in the garden.  I also have pruned roses, with a bit more restraint, but not much.  Nothing ever died, so I felt ready to step it up and take on the fruit trees.

We started out by helping a fellow Master Gardener with his rather large orchard.  It was an MG training class and they let me tag along.  The trees looked like they were newly planted, but they were about three years old, so they weren’t in great shape.  That was perfect for our group!

So, with that practice under my belt, we set out to the garden and started with the apple trees.  The fun part was cutting the branches and trying to figure out which ones needed pruning.  The not-fun part was cleaning up the branches and raking up the sodden, dead leaves from under the trees.  It took us three days to finish all the trees and I thought, well, either we did a good job and we’ll get fruit this year, or we totally hacked them up and we’ll be buying fruit at the market.  Our goal, if I can remember, was to trim the lower branches because some of the branches on some of the trees were almost touching the ground. as in this photo–


We also wanted to establish either a main branch heading upwards or a tiered shape, plus get rid of dead and crossed branches.  Take a look at the photos and see for yourselves what the result was:


      The first tree, an apple, before and after.  You can tell the before, because of all the leaves under the trees.



We did the pruning in January, and had to wait until April for this:

Pruning14  Pruning16  Pruning 15

Pruning17  PruningC  PruningD

PruningI  PruningF  PruningG

And then, the trees thanked us with these little gems:

Pruning B  PruningA

I’d say our first pruning was a huge success.  All of the fruit trees bloomed, even the pears that didn’t do much last year.  Now, all we have to do is wait until the end of summer  and into fall to reap the harvest of our hard work.



Vegetable Garden, March 2015

The spring garden is off with a splash!  It has been a warmer than normal late winter with close to normal rain fall. So it has been very tempting to get into the garden and start planting!  The muck boots have been a requirement and soil compression is a constant concern.  It has been a pleasure to have the roto-tiller constantly at hand, so that on those days when the soil is dry enough I can get at breaking up the soil and getting the rows ready to plant.

Harvest:  The asparagus started throwing up shoots the last two weeks of March. They are a tasty welcome to spring and a driving force to get the garden into full gear.

Growing: The garlic and shallots that were planted last fall are looking great!  The fruit trees are in full bloom, the wildflowers are starting to bloom, and of course there are weeds everywhere!

Planting: Fennel, yellow and red onion, bunching onion, leek, lettuce, spinach, parsley, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, romanesco, and kohlrabi plants were planted from seedlings started in February indoors.  Parsnip, carrot, beet, turnip, and Swiss chard were direct seeded in the garden.  Pea and radish were direct planted in the garden every 3 to 6 weeks to stretch out the harvest.  Lettuce is being seeded indoor every 8 weeks as well.  We got a few days when the temperatures got down to 29 F. and that took the basil out, but no worries more basil is sprouting indoors now.  Everything else appears unaffected by the cold nights.

Seeding: Basil, lettuce, pepper, artichoke, and cardoon have been seeded and are sprouted.  I will be seeding tomato, squash, melon, cucumber, and eggplant indoors very soon.


Germination box: I decided that trying to maintain the 85 degrees F. temperatures in the small greenhouse that the pepper seeds need to germinate was too difficult and too expensive. So I built a 30” x 60” x 24” insulated box, hung 4 shop lamps (2 LED and 2 fluorescent), and attached a thermostat.  I now can maintain 85 degrees F. at about 90% humidity with less than 210 watts of power.  If the plants do well under the LED shop lamps I will go 100% LED next year; at that point I will be using 140 watts of power for heating and lighting.

Larger Greenhouse: I have been working on a 10’ x 18’ poly film greenhouse.  Our good friends the Jenks came to visit and Jeff helped me get a good start on this project by building the supporting structures.  Since then I have completed the table tops.  I have to build the ends, attach the loops, and apply the poly film.  This is sort of a back burner project as it will not be needed until the end of April.  OMG that is just weeks away!

Berry patch:  During a dry patch, I cut in a 40’ x 60’ plot for our berry patch in which we are planning to grow blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries.  I plan to start with one 40’ row of each with room to add a second row of each if we feel like doing so. The strawberries will be grown in 6” PVC pipes about 38” off the ground for easy and clean harvesting.

Bird houses:  With help from the Jeff, I built and hung 10 bird houses, 5 for wrens, and 5 for western bluebirds.  Both of these birds eat a lot of insects and I wanted to encourage them to hang around. As it turns out, the tree swallows think they are just the place to setup housekeeping!  The good news is tree swallows eat insects as well so I am good with them using the bird house as well.

 A friend of ours called this kind of late winter weather that is warm and not too rainy “sucker season.” It makes you think spring is here and that you should start planting, then when you have your plants in the ground here comes the cold wet weather that Oregon early springs are known for.  Well, it did get the basil!  And if it gets really cold the parsley will not make it, maybe even the lettuce will take a hit!  On the other hand, it feels so good to get working in the garden, working the soil, hearing the birds, and planting, who really cares if a cold, wet snap takes some things?


Preparing the garden: As the soil dries out, I will be tilling and forming rows in the rest of the garden for planting.  I have to wait until the middle of May at the earliest to get this done.

Indoor seeding:  Tomato, squash, melon, cucumber, and eggplant will be seeded the early part of April.

Up potting:  The basil, lettuce, pepper, artichoke, and cardoon I seeded in early March will be up potted and grown out in the small greenhouse, then moved to the large greenhouse at the end of April.

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Our Italian Tenant

We have an Italian living with us,

in the barn–

the same as we had an Australian go on a car trip with us one year.

Both are machines, the latter a GPS device and the former a spiffy, new, shiny, Italian-made tiller–oh boy!!



Bruce finally bit the bullet and bought a brand new tiller because digging in the garden dirt was a lot more work than he wanted to do.  He had rented a tiller last year, but he found he needed it several times throughout the season, so this seemed to be the best solution.

We went up to Eugene to pick it up, got it home, and then the fun began.  It looked like it would be dangerous exciting getting it off the truck, so I took photos.

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This is a BCS tiller.

Produced in Italy for over 50 years, BCS ranks as one of the world’s best selling tillers. BCS tillers have up to 4 forward and 3 reverse speeds. All models are direct-gear driven and offer the best power transfer in the industry. Other tillers use high maintenance, inefficient belts or chains, instead of precision high quality steel gears, to transfer power from engine to tines. BCS tillers also have an automotive-style clutch joined directly to the crankshaft.

In addition to the obvious benefits for power transfer, this clutch design positions the engine so that the tiller’s center of gravity is placed low for maximum maneuverability and the least wear and tear on the operator. High quality engines are used throughout the BCS line. They have solid state ignitions, extra-heavy flywheels and are certified for California emission standards. BCS tillers have lock pin adjustment of tiller depth up to 8″. They have rear tines (widths from 18″-30″) for even digging and reduced vibration. Tines rotate up to 290 rpms, or up to 50% faster than other brands for softer, finer soil.

BCS tillers have adjustable handles allowing 180° swing and BCS’s power take-off (PTO) can be controlled independently of the wheel speed. The tilling unit detaches easily so you can use your tractor for dozing, mowing, cutting, chipping, shredding or throwing snow. BCS offers many attachments for all these tasks; it has the widest selection of PTO attachments in the industry.


What do the initials BCS stand for?  Beneath Ceaseless Skies?  British Crime Survey?  Bayer Crop Science?  It could be any of these, but in this case it’s Bonetti, Castoldi, and Speroni, probably the men who founded the company…

It’s here on Wikipedia, but I don’t read Italian.  http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/BCS_%28azienda%29






2014 Gravens Gardens Pepper Report

This is my first season growing peppers in southwestern Oregon and my first season gardening on this property.  From Google Earth, I know someone has been gardening on this plot since 1994.  The 1994 image of the garden seems to show a well-established garden plot so I am assuming the garden was established before 1985.  I had the soil tested in the spring of 2014.  The soil was a little too acidic and needed a little nitrogen.  I tilled in about 1/3 of the recommend lime, 4 to 5 wheelbarrow loads of mint compost, and no nitrogen.

The peppers were planted fairly densely in two rows 18-inches apart on 8-inch centers.  The plants were planted in early May.  I started the seeds about 3 to 4 weeks too early so the plants were very leggy (1’ to 2’) at the time they were planted.  I planted them very deep with two thirds of the total plant placed below the soil level.  I used two lines per row of T-Tape (Emitter Spacing: 6″, Flow Rate: 0.25 GPH) on a 20 PSI regulated line operating 45 minutes 3 times a week for irrigation.

We had a warmer and drier than normal spring so the early planting worked out okay.  After a few weeks the plants shook off transplanting shock, started growing well and looked good throughout the growing season.  I provided a shade structure made up of PVC pipe and light-weight row cover.  This structure effectively eliminated sun scald, yet provided enough light to produce a very nice yield.

I decided to grow the same pepper varieties here that I grew in San Jose, CA.  I was very encouraged with the results, all varieties produced well with the exception of the Bhut Jolokia, which fruited very well but did not ripen before the rains started.  In the end, I grew 2 to 4 plants of 43 varieties of peppers.

I grew these sweet pepper varieties: Belecski, California Wonder Orange, California Wonder Red, Chervena Chushka, Coral, Corno di Toro Giallo, Corno di Toro Rosso, Cuollarici, Early Sunsation, Espelette, Garden Sunshine, Giallo di Cuneo, Goccia d’Oro, Gourmet, Karma, Marconi Golden, Marconi Red, Orange Bell, Quadrato d’Asti Rosso, Romanian Gogosari, and Wisconsin Lakes.  The red lettered varieties are very nice peppers developed in Europe after 1500 AD.  These varieties were developed for flavor as well as growth and vector resistance and resulted in great varieties for the garden.  The Corno di Toro and Marconi varieties have great flavor both for eating out of hand and as sweet-pickled.  Belecski, Giallo di Cuneo, Goccia d’Oro, Marconi Golden, Marconi Red, Quadrato d’Asti Rosso, and Romanian Gogosari, are very nice bell-type varieties that are great fresh and they freeze very well.  The Chervena Chushka and Espelette are best dried and ground for paprika.  Finally, Cuollarici is an Italian frying pepper.  The Corno di toro, Marconi, Quadrato d’Asti, and Romanian Gogosari are our favorite sweet peppers.

I grew these mild peppers: Ancho 101, Baby Pepper Chili, Chilhuacle Negro, Mariachi, Padron, Pasilla Bajio and Szentesi.  Baby Pepper Chili is the unpatented open-pollinated version of the Papadew pepper found sweet-pickled in the supermarkets and salad bars.  This is one of our favorite mild varieties that we sweet-pickle and serve stuffed with soft goat cheese.  Padron is a well-known fryer.  Mariachi and Szentesi are very nice paprika-shaped peppers with a nice bite.


I grew these hot peppers: Aleppo, Big Bomb, Hinklehatz Yellow, Jalapeño, Manzano Orange, Manzano Red, Santa Fe Grande, Serrano, and Thai Hot Black.  The Manzano and Big Bomb are great sweet-pickled and stuffed with soft goat cheese.  The Aleppo dried and ground make a very flavorful spicy paprika.  The Thai Hot Black is a very hot Thai pepper grown by a family of Hmong people living in the California central valley.


I grew these extremely hot peppers: Bhut Jolokia, Habanero Saint Jacobs, and Trinidad Scorpion. The Habanero and Trinidad Scorpion did very well.  We make jelly from the Habanero, and hot chili sauce out of all three.  All three are great dried and ground into an extremely hot paprika. When making these hot paprikas, I grind the seeds and the pods together.


I save seeds for Aleppo, Baby Pepper Chili, Belecski, Bhut Jolokia, Cuollarici, Habanero Saint Jacobs, Hinklehatz Yellow, Romanian Gogosari, Szentesi, and Thai Hot Black.