Black Friday Barrier Hedges

It has been 30 years since I have shopped on Black Friday.  All I wanted at the time was a couple Transformers for my son, who loved those things.  Never again, Pilgrims.

Still, after just watching Black Friday films… bloodletting over trash made in China?  Leaping barricades?  Seriously?  I cannot ignore that gardens may someday be at risk to similar crazed behavior.

My sister once tried to chase me down for older sibling punishment… and I crawled under a big patch of gorse (huge in Oregon with 2 inch spines).  I evaded capture but was not out of earshot, while she screamed her rage and called me a coward and such.  I didn’t want to be a coward, but didn’t come out for a long time.  Even then I recognized crazed behavior.

I suppose my dad caught wind of this because he started telling his littlest daughter how being invisible, low key, and having barrier hedges is how most animals survive bigger, meaner predators.  I had enough experience in the woods to recognize the truth.

Dad told me there were so many edible barrier hedges in Europe during WWII that they slowed or defeated military tanks.   They were mostly sited on berms and were a pretty impenetrable mass of thorns and tree trunks.  They fed and hid wildlife from predators.

 They also fed people in hard times.


y dad was awesome.  At 6 foot 4 inches and brawny you wouldn’t think he would be so empathetic toward the littlest girl, but he made me feel smart for diving under that gorse bush.

Never mind he was the youngest of grandpa’s pack of big brawny boys that took no prisoners.  I imagine he was a fast runner in his own time, with a few hidey holes . Today’s

 military is unlikely to worry about barrier hedges, but there are lessons to be learned from armed men with tanks having trouble gaining access

.  My take is that barrier hedges can discourage most people most of the time. Hedges can slow down even the most determined folks.  In the country, where it routinely takes law enforcement officers 30 to 60 minutes to show up, a barrier hedge might do the trick.

My property has a couple mild barriers now.  It is 20 feet above the road, with one driveway access.  The enclosed area has a 4 foot chain link fence at the top of the steep embankment with its 75 degree slope.  This is enough of a nuisance to keep most burglars at bay.  I park facing out, blocking the driveway, which was dug from the hill and has steep sides.

Any vehicle coming up the drive must stop on a steep incline about 30 feet from the house.  In all, my property is not particularly inviting to burglars.  If I am not home, we have neighborhood watch, the best security of all.

Here is another project for me… a barrier hedge.  I am good at creating projects!

My barrier hedge will basically be prickly pear at the top of a steep incline.  My property drops off sharply from my 4′ fence to the street, about a 75 degree angle.   Oddly enough, it is very bare of plants, yet does not erode.  This is such a dry spot that prickly pear or tree cholla is my best best.  I will probably have a mixture of both, pushing tree cholla toward the outside edge, since it gets 6 or more feet tall.

I have three tree chollas, and access to more for the outside edge.  My dozen prickly pears are growing and can donate pads.  I will ask around to see if I can bring in more.  Tree chollas and prickly pear are everywhere are here and look quite natural.

Inside the cactus line, I have a half dozen Honey Locust seedlings, which sport veritable daggers.  I will sprout a few more this year.  My frontage along the road is about 350 feet.

I plant barriers for my wildlife, and am planting barriers for me, too.  Most importantly, my garden and I are not visible from the road.  As my barrier fence grows, it will not line up like a soldiers, but will flow naturally around my terrain.  It will be filled with life and food.

Posted in Circular Economy, design, food forest, gardening, home, plant uses, Prepper, wild edibles | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mylar Adventures

Last summer I bought a box of Mylar sheets to replace my emergency blanket I kept behind my truck seat. It can get so cold in the mountains, if I got into car trouble, I would need the warmth. I have kept extra boots also.

I know a blanket is not that warm, but read about Mylar, which was developed in the space program. I bought a box of a dozen, since they seem fragile.

It is winter and this old trailerstead built with 2×2 construction radiates cold even with the heater going.  There are days when I want a house so bad… but I want it to be the right housing for the long haul.  Sustainable, not a typical market economy design that eats resources.  Ahhhh the price of going my own way looking for a measure of independence.

This morning I was changing my sheets from cotton to flannel and got the brilliant idea to put a single sheet of Mylar on the mattress before I put on the  flannel sheet.  It might be really warm!

Sure enough, I am sleeping on it tonight and it feels like I am sleeping on an electric pad without the electricity.  Sounds funny, though, like old crinoline dresses rustling.

I just took off the second blanket, you would think it was spring.  I don’t know how well this thin little Mylar sheet will stand up to being a mattress pad, but tonight I am sleeping in the tropics.

Amazing stuff.

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Sustainability in the Mountains

It is still snowing today.  Perfect for winter dreaming and cozy cups of tea in front of my electric fireplace.

After three years living on my five acres in the mountains, I keep moving forward with my Food Forest. Most of what I plant are edible native species, and some of them just show up on their own. That means my hardest work is identifying edible species and harvesting food for me.

I love this aspect of natural gardening for many reasons, one of which is it takes the brute labor out of feeding yourself. I am already 61, and strong for an old woman, but it is impractical to think I should count on being brute labor for something as critical as my food supply.  Identifying and eating what is given freely is a concept almost lost in this country.

I finally have a housing plan that I can afford, get past county code, satisfies my desire for a kitchen suitable for cooking and food processing, small enough to be cozy for one person with room for visitors, and which is mostly underground to take advantage of the earth’s average temperature of 55°F. Almost a perfect temperature if you consider my outside temperature swings from -20°F to 95°F.  The sheer threat to survival that low temperatures pose and which requires endless market economy expense to ameliorate is my number one concern for housing sustainability.

Many of my neighbors have energy efficient wood stoves and cut wood to feed them.  Cutting wood is not my idea of a good time and is physically dangerous.  Using a fireplace as your main heat source also means getting up on cold nights to feed the fire.  For many, it means buying wood..  Others have extra propane storage tanks and keep them topped off every month.  None of these options looks sustainable to this old woman.

Even if I could not heat my space conventionally, body heat, heat from lights and cooking, and passive solar heat from my two greenhouse windows, all add sufficient heat to keep the space comfortable.  I consider this my sustainable option.  It requires no brute strength and is possible without market economy fuel or its expense.  I have a door and two greenhouse windows (with shutters for weather extremes) on the south side, but also plan a raised 24 inch garden bed in front, which is a small earth berm on my open side.  It is connected to the garage on the west side, and the north and east sides are dug in the hill.

Since I shifted my house to take advantage of passive solar heat, I will insulate the roof and cover it with metal for water collection.  I will add a cistern to the south east of the house, low enough to accept roof drainage, but high enough for gravity flow to my raised garden beds.  Just far enough south to not be dangerous to my home. That will give me water security.  If desperate, a solar distiller will purify this water for drinking and cooking, likely 3-5 gallons per day from one distiller.  Otherwise, tap water for me and rainwater collection for the garden.

In spite of my Food Forest lazy option, I love gardening.  I inherited an inordinate amount of concrete pad on the south side that had unknown intended use.  I have set aside one 8×8 pad for a seating area overlooking the valley and adjacent to a pinyon-plum tree guild that is lovely.  I am building 24 inch raised beds for vegetables and fruits on the rest of the concrete, keeping concrete paths around the beds for clean access.

My thoughts on this are that I have voles and mice that cannot dig under these beds and eat my plantings.  24 inch concrete walls keep out the rabbits.  If needed, I can cover with nets before harvest.

Concrete is a good heat sink and will make the raised beds season extenders, which can be critical in my short season.  They are all protected from north winds bt the house and garage on the north and evergreens on the west.  I put dead wood in the bottom of these beds to approximate Hugelkultur beds and add moisture retention for my plants.

Because the beds are raised, they are filled with compost, much richer than my soil, and great for my vegetables.  Even more, they will baby some my expensive favorites like Saffron Crocus and Blueberries.

Add in my Wabi Sabi greenhouse that can winter over herbs that aren’t quite up to zone 5 winters, and start seedlings.

Once my home is installed, I can start building raised beds in front of it.  The prior owners graveled the whole area for parking their semi truck using crusher fines.  It is packed solid.  I will build raised beds over this level area as well.  For these beds, I will add a layer of stones as a heat sink and animal deterrent.  Between beds, I will add deeper crusher fines and later flagstone.  The whole area is about  36 by 36 feet, not huge, but will easily feed one person.

As soon as my home is built, I will sell/remove the trailerstead, leaving the 14×60 concrete footer around the outside edge.  I will build a concrete block wall around it, opening to my courtyard garden through what is now my back patio.  The orchard is adjacent to a four foot drop to the lowest level, itself 20 feet above the street.  The soil is deep underneath the trailerstead and  I plan to enrich it and plant a small orchard between my underground house with its courtyard garden, and the pinyons and junipers on the outside edge.

I have neighbors all around and this layout will feel secluded and give me some privacy without being isolated or so far up the hill I have trouble getting in or out when it snows.  It also gives more space to the wildlife corridor and less stress on the animals.

I have put a lot of consideration into making this property a sustainable haven for me and wildlife.  It is also modest as houses go!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Before I go off to make Cranberry Nut Bread for my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner, I thank everyone who reads my blog and extra thanks to those who comment and share with me.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Wabi Sabi Greenhouse

Today I started dry stacking the last concrete blocks for a 6 foot square raised bed.  I finished row one and checked it for size.  I have enough block for a second row, but not the third row I want.  Back to the market economy for another 14 concrete blocks.

I have drawn a plan of this area, which is the southern side of my courtyard and is paved in concrete in an L shaped pattern.  It joins my current back patio to the storage building and a second structure that I thought I would have to remove to have room for construction.  It encompasses two gardens, one where I planted a red maple and the other with a pinyon-plum tree guild.

The building is triangular and the long side is attached to the carport.  The carport still needs to be removed, but the odd little building does not.  It is full of junk left by the former owner and I took a break from moving block to look it over.  It was warm inside!  I first considered moving the chickens in because it is warmer, then realized they have windows across their building and like to perch up there and look outside.  They also have more indoor running room since the house is bigger.  Their situation isn’t broken, I won’t fix it.

The roof of the triangle building is half translucent panels and half corrugated metal.  It is effectively a sturdy greenhouse.  The south wall is 2×12 up to  5 feet, then has translucent panels to the roof.  The west side is part metal roofing and part strand board.  Ugly stuff!  The back is siding.

Just the word “greenhouse” starts instant greenhouse fantasies.  Season extender.  A place to winter over tender plants.  A warm place to start seeds.  A potting bench.  A worm bed.  A place to grow mushrooms.  And so it goes.

In my overhaul I will take down more 2×12 fencing, which will give me enough wood to replace the west wall with weathered 2×12.  I thought I might buy more translucent panels to match the south side, but the prior owner left a pile of windows, so I might install a window on the west side.  To be determined.

I think I can make a funky triangular greenhouse out of this little building.  The east side faces the proposed underground house, and is the longest side of the building.  I want a trellis for growing hardy kiwi against that east wall.  I believe the carport will yield enough used 4×4 and 2×4 to make a sturdy trellis.

We are supposed to have a heavy snowstorm come in late tomorrow.  It is raining now, although not forecasted.  In the morning I will put my thermometer in the building to check temperatures this winter

I need to remove the carport before starting to build, and started removing the debris inside a few days ago.  Silly me, when the prior owners offered to haul everything to the dump, I told them not to bother!  I know I can recycle some of these items, and will haul away what I cannot.  That was the thought,  anyway.

I see a wabi sabi greenhouse in my future.  I am feeling gleeful at the moment… let’s see how long that lasts through the drudgery of emptying these two spaces out, partial tear down, and reconstruction.   Most of which will not get started until spring.  I  am shameless about adding chores to my already endless list!

Posted in design, food forest, gardening, permaculture, Prepper, tree guilds, worms | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thornless Blackberries

Today I planted Black Satin and Natchez Thornless Blackberries. I purchased them last spring in the market economy but they were not well rooted and I left them in pots until today. I will continue to look for wild berries but in the meantime I will see how these two do. Natchez is a zone 6 plant and I am not sure it will winter over. I am ostensibly in zone 6 but think my microclimate is zone 5. They are in a protected location so will likely do fine.

Black Satin is good to zone 3.

I have read a lot of pruning advice regarding blackberries, but never bother much with it.  Most gardening books make everything too hard.

I give my garden daily attention because I enjoy it.  Turn your back a minute and it does fine.  In Texas I kept my garden well mulched and used little water.  Here in my Food Forest, I use Hugelkutur.  The secret is optimal water retention.

I cut out dead blackberry canes when I get around to it.  You can cut a cane that has fruited because they only fruit once, but these canes wither back anyway and you do better to cut them when dead.  The plant withdraws nutrients from the cane and uses it elsewhere, so getting hasty just weakens the plant.

If you want to collect blackberry leaves for tea, that is done before they start turning in the fall.  Collect young leaves and dry them in the shade at room temperature?  BlackBerry tea is a medicinal but also combined with other leaves for tea.  Most teas are medicinal and best drunk in moderation.

New blackberry shoots are good eaten as greens.  Since they spread well, take your new shoots quickly while young and delicate.  If you eat the new shoots, the patch does not get out of control.

If you like absolute order, go for blueberries or other orderly bushes.  Blackberries are not pretty, but they have blackberries!

Blackberries seem to be universally known and who could pass on blackberry pie?  I want the native variety to add to my Food Forest up hill.  They certainly help trees evade Mule Deer extinction.  That would be the prickly variety.

The prickly variety can also be part of an edible boundary hedge on larger properties, helping keep out stray people and animals.  Wild blackberries can keep deer out of your vegetable garden in the tastiest way.  In the Pacific Northwest Blackberries get way out of hand and a few people rent goats to come in and  eat them to the ground.

I also planted one Russian Sage in my pinyon/plum tree guild.

Winter Storm Clara is moving this way and I expect snow over the weekend. If it does snow on Thanksgiving it will likely shut the freeway down and still holiday traffic.

I decided where to use my last cement blocks for a raised bed.  Tomorrow I will put a few in place.  Life is good.

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Stealth Gardening in the Dungeon

Also known as gardening in the odd corner indoors and switching out houseplants that only provide beauty with evergreen perennials that provide beauty and food.

Enter the dungeon:  a one bedroom basement apartment with one tiny high window in the bedroom and two tiny high windows in the kitchen/dining/living room. The place was dark and claustrophic and the bed fit in a lighted nook in the darkest part of the room. The recessed lights were much too bright and at the wrong angle for reading and the nook didn’t have room for a night stand.  Did I mention it felt like a dungeon?.

There was space closer to the window so I moved the double bed to the opposite wall and closer to the window.

I put cheap wooden stools in each corner of the nook with my wood toy box (yarn storage for knitting projects) between, and filled the nook with plants. I hung 3 cherry tomato plants from a 2×4 that I attached to the ceiling and grew tomatoes winter and summer.  Tomatoes are a tropical perennial and you can bring them inside in the winter.  They need a lot of light.

I grew nasturtiums on the stools,  where they could cascade down.  They make peppery and flavorful salad greens.  I brought in a pot of violas for milder greens, then added onion chives.   I put leaf lettuce in one gallon pots snugged in the back.

My 5 foot wide garden with artificial light became a productive salad garden in Seattle’s dreary winter.  It also made my dungeon welcoming.  It did not supply all my food, but a daily salad was nice.

When I moved to Albuquerque, I rented an apartment, then bought a tall modern oak entertainment center 24 inches wide to hold towels in a wheelchair accessible bathroom long on space and short on storage.  I painted it black.  After I bought the trailerstead it bounced from living room to bedroom.

I now use the bottom cabinet to store sheets but the top shelves were too short for display since they were designed for electronic components.  I removed one shelf and hid it behind the unit.

The display light is perfect to keep one plant happy on the top shelf. I have my Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) in it and it is feminine and scuptural.  It also grows slowly and won’t overwhelm the space.  Eventually I will remove the second shelf as it gets taller.  A mint or pineapple sage would work as well and would be pretty and provide a nice scent and edible greens.  I filled the lower two shelves with books.

There are wide entertainment centers made from oak being given away on Craigslist.  I think one could be painted a bright color like red or lime and covered with plants inside a niche or against a bare wall.  They are deeper than bookshelves and hold larger plants.

The wooden toy box from the dungeon shifted to my front living room window and holds a Sage plant with a metal New Mexico skink curled around it.  Instead, I will soon have a tree shaped Rosemary sitting in the window with its piney scent and Christmas cheer.

My Christmas Rosemary can stay in the window all winter because it is not cold hardy enough for my New Mexico mountain Food Forest.  It can adorn my patio next summer, then return to the window for subsequent Christmas cheer.

I have two plug in fluorescent fixtures that are waiting to transform an arched built in bookcase into a plant station.  I removed all the shelves and found two tall ceramic vases at a closeout store.  I inserted pots with cascading Dragon Cactus that will fruit indoors.  They are sculptural and turned a poorly made shelving divider into something more dramatic and attractive.

I have a small niche in my hallway (gas heater removed when I switched to passive solar/electric) that I want to transform into a lighted 7.5 feet tall greenhouse “closet” with shelves for starting seedlings.  The past 2 winters I started seedlings in my 10′ long kitchen window and was heartily sick of the disarray before I could set them out in the spring.  I am planning on lining it with wood, adding shelves and grow lights.  I already have the 1×4 wood to line and frame it, but haven’t settled on how to install lighting.  I want to complete by February so I can set out starts in May.

Grow lights can be used all around the house to keep your winter herb garden happy it you lack a southern window.  A 1×4 can cover the mechanics.

I had a wide east window in my apartment and bought pretty soft blue and green 4″ pots for the narrow ledge, then grew garlic cloves in the window.  I got attached to nipping a few greens for my salads, good thing there were 12 of them!  I grew a year’s supply of garlic that way and they looked pretty from inside and outside.

I once had dozens of houseplants, and still have a couple sitting around.  I am transitioning to pretty edibles that provide food, greens and scent through my long mountain winters.

I was spoiled by long gardening seasons  in Texas.  I could collect something fresh from my garden all year.  I even favored cool season vegetables because I dreaded 100+ hear all summer long.  Still… tomatoes!  I quit canning or freezing vegetables because winters were soft enough to pick something for the table.

Until I have a greenhouse…

My house is green with edible plants.

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