Saturday, July 4, 2015

Hilltop Plan - A WIP


Last week I did a post on what is now growing in the hilltop beds.  This time round, I thought I would do a bit of an overview on the hilltop "renovation" in general.  We are not even halfway done the area at this point, but I know I will want to see the progress in the future, warts and all - and there are plenty of warts.
 
When we moved here, the hilltop was a weed & vine infested mess with a huge 6’ fire pit in the middle.  We would run the mower over the weeds every once in a while but that was about it.  We really didn't want to spend any time or money on this area until we knew what we wanted to do with it.

So this is what we started with:

Before - Facing west
You can see the load of soil I moved up there last fall on the right &
the plant debris filled fire pit in the middle

Before - Facing East
Brush had essentially overtaken an arbour on that side,
which you can just barely make out on the left
 
The hilltop actually extends beyond this area, both east and west, but it is impenetrable because of all the brush.  At some point, we will tackle those sections, which are littered with buckthorns, an invasive species in this area.  But for now, the flat clearing in between the brush is what we are concentrating on.

I remember when we first moved here – we thought that the fire pit was great.  Until we used it, that is.  It was so big, you basically had to set it up & light it while standing in it.  I didn’t realize how ridiculous it was until I saw a video my husband took of me lighting the fire and his narrative was “now that’s safe….let’s stand IN the fire pit while we light it”.  Everyone burst out laughing when we saw the video for the first time, but it really highlighted how impractical (and unsafe) it was.  And the fire itself would often get huge – much too large for my comfort.  We needed 4' long sticks just to roast some marshmallows!

We constructed another fire pit in the main yard area that was a much more reasonable diameter (around 30" or so) and, once I decided that I wanted to use the hilltop for additional beds, we started using the large fire pit as a makeshift compost area.

This worked out fairly well as it accomplished two things.  Firstly, we really needed a temporary spot for large amounts of garden debris as I didn’t have a proper composting area (other than black bins for kitchen scraps) and secondly, it helped fill up the fire pit hole.  The goal was to make the 12" deep pit level with the surrounding area & by last year, we were almost there.  I filled in the last couple of inches with mulch and then sheet mulched about 1/3 of the hilltop (after cutting down much of the encroaching brush) in a first attempt to deal with the weeds.  It was the fall by this point and I didn’t have the mulch or the motivation to do more than that.

You’ll notice I said “first attempt” at getting rid of the weeds.  Some of these guys are very persistent.  You would think being covered with cardboard and a thick layer of mulch over the winter would have done them in, but no such luck.

WIP - Facing East
The arbour is now visible, but many of the
weeds I tried to smother with the cardboard mulch have re-appeared
 
I'll be trimming back the weeds and adding more cardboard/mulch, hopefully in the next week - they have to give up at some point!

WIP - Facing West
I'll be moving the leftover soil under the blue tarp &
that entire area will be sheet mulched
 
Before I placed the beds in their final position, I had to create a plan for the hilltop - once the beds are filled, there is no moving them.  So even though the position of the beds seems a bit odd (it's staggered), it’s part of an overall plan that will be completed in stages.

This year, I built five 8’x 4’ vegetable beds (one is being used by my kids), three asparagus beds and one blueberry bed.  The blueberry bed is in place, but not yet filled – I received the plants a couple of months ago and potted them up with some peat moss and compost since their bed wasn't ready yet.

Blueberries waiting for transplanting
 
Since the spring weather has now passed and we are into the heat of summer, I have decided to leave them in their pots until the end of August or so, at which point I will transplant them into their bed.  Just as a side note, I’m planting them in a bed as our soil is very alkaline around here, so I'll be using a soilless mixture in it.

We were actually in the process of moving some pallets this past weekend for the new compost area, when I noticed this in the corn bed:

Corn stalks munched - Aargh!
 
I knew I was tempting fate by not having put up the chickenwire fence yet and there you have it.  6 out of 24 corn plants were chewed up.  Thankfully, they didn’t nibble them right to the ground so I’m hopeful that they will recover.  My plan had been to install the fencing only after the entire area was sheet mulched (which would make mulching a lot easier without a fence to go around).  Oh well, sometimes things just don't go according to plan.

I was fairly convinced it was rabbits because I also saw chunks of J's snow peas nibbled:

More evidence on the snow peas
 
And right beside the snow peas, one of my trellis strings was severed:

The string in the middle pointing right was chewed right through
 
Not exactly the type of damage a slug or earwig would cause.

It was definitely time to fortify my defences and get that fencing up.  In the meantime, the pallet compost bin construction was left for another day.

Pallets for the new compost bin area
Put on hold due to corn munching emergency
 
I had actually purchased & installed the U-posts for the fencing the week before, so I was halfway their already.  When purchasing the U-posts, I had done a bit of cross-border shopping and saved a few hundred dollars in the process.  Frankly, I can't understand the dramatic price difference in the cost of 4' U posts here ($9.48) vs. an hour away in Buffalo ($3.17) - same store (Home Depot) and the posts are identical to those available here.  Even with the exchange rate the US price works out to be about $4 Canadian.  Why would it cost over 200% more here?  Not a big deal if you only wanted a few posts; a VERY big deal for the 45 posts that I needed.

Once I saw the damaged corn, I didn’t want another night to go by without the area properly secured and I was able to finish installing the chicken wire before nightfall.

Chicken Wire Fencing Installed
 
The hilltop has a steep decline at the back, so I placed the fencing right near the edge.  The compost area is going along the back (where the pallets are currently piled) and eventually, I plan on building some narrow beds for herbs and flowers that run along the rest of the perimeter.

My overall plan includes building 5 more veg beds plus another asparagus bed & 2 or 3 blueberry beds (depending on how well my current bushes do once planted).

But that plan will have to wait for at least a couple of years.  I have added new beds to the garden in 3 of the last 4 years and I need a bit of a break.  I actually think I bit off more than I could chew this year.  Adding to the garden takes up a lot of time and energy & it will be nice to be on top of things for once, instead of always falling behind.

Till next time...

Double Aarg!  Today I noticed some fresh damage on 2 more corn stalks.  I'm still convinced that rabbits did some damage to the garden, especially the peas and trellis.  But now I'm thinking that maybe birds or squirrels are responsible for the corn.  I've decided to cover the corn bed with Agribon for now.  And then cross my fingers.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

20 comments:

  1. Your hilltop garden looks great, everything is looking lush. It definitely could be birds damaging your corn, especially since your corn plants weren't actually eaten. One year we lost 30 out of sixty-something tomato seedlings to birds when they would just snap the stems.

    We did have a wild brown rabbit in our garden one season. It would eat things like young kohrabi and Asian greens and eat parts of eggplant and tomatoes, but it wouldn't leave parts of plants snapped off.

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    1. Birds are not generally a problem in the garden, other than perhaps digging up a few pea or bean seeds, so I wasn't expecting to have any issues with them. I suppose with the new types of veg I'm growing this year, it's not surprising that I would have at least one or two critter issues that I haven't had before. Next year, the corn is going to get the Agribon treatment from the start.

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  2. That's a massive amount of work you took on, way beyond what I would take on at my age. Ahh, youth. Sorry about the corn. I think that is not bird damage, given the thickness of the stalks. Birds are not vegetarians. They usually pull up corn or bean seedlings to get at the seed. They don't shear off corn stalks and eat them. Rabbits, deer, ground hog?

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    1. It's seems that it's a mystery - I haven't tacked down the bottom of the chickenwire (just purchased the pegs, so I'll be doing that today). It's possible that there is a gap that they got through. Was out with some neighbors last night and that is exactly what happened to her & she had to resow some beans and peas. We haven't had any deer issues before (knock on wood!) but I have a feeling they wouldn't be that selective about what they ate - one of the chewed up stalks was surrounded by stalks with no damage on them! Have never seen any groundhogs or such, but that doesn't mean that we don't have any. Nothing else seems to have been touched in the last few days other than the corn. I'm hoping that it will be ok hiding under the Agribon until the stalks get too tough to chew through easily.

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  3. That arbour area looks like it will be lovely once it's been cleaned up a bit - so much potential, I'm looking forward to seeing what you do there (whenever, no pressure :) !). And great job on the chicken wire - that really is a lot of work, so good on you! I have one blueberry plant in a container, it seems much easier to grow than raspberries so I think I'll invest in more next year.

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    1. There were such thick vines twisting through the arbour that they were actually cracking sections of it. What a pain they were to remove, let me tell you! I think it will be lovely once it's done - I'm picturing a little bench up there and maybe a potting table. In the meantime, what I really need are some 30 hour days ;)

      Until I did a bit of research, I had no idea that it was difficult to grow blueberries around here as we would often see them at U-Pick farms. Apparently they do a ton of soil removal/replacement, etc., in order to be able to grow them. Building & filling a bed (or container) is so much easier!

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  4. What a lot of work you've done. I think the beauty of a blog is that you can look back on everything you've achieved so you'll be pleased that you've documented all this. Such a shame about your corn, there's just so many pests waiting to jump in and take our crops before we get a chance, I hope you manage to thwart them.

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    1. I completely agree. In the past there were so many times I wish I had written down how & when I did things. I did make notes on the veg that I was growing, but that was about it and I rarely took photos. I love before and after photos, but often didn't remember to grab the camera until after the job was halfway done (or at all in most cases). When you write a blog, all of a sudden documenting what happens in the garden becomes almost second nature. I can't even imagine what it will be like to look back at it in 10 or 15 years.

      I think that the most frustrating thing when it comes to this pest is not really knowing what it is - "ghost" pests drive me crazy!

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  5. That hilltop looks like a huge reclamation project. I was so lucky when we moved into the house and we just had subsoil. It meant we would hire landscapers to put everything in (well not the beds, but all the rest). I'd never started from such an easy yard before.

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    1. It definitely would have been easier if I had a blank slate to start with! The easiest beds to add were those I put in last year - all I had to deal with there was grass, which isn't so bad.

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  6. Wow, good for you, Margaret! My first guess would have been deer or rabbits, too. And truly the only thing I've found that will keep them out with certainty is the chicken wire fencing, with the bottom buried in the ground. Also, I put onion sets all around the perimeter of my veggie/flower garden, inside the fencing. If there's a gap, they're less likely to want to go through it if the repellent onions are in the way. Then, I get more onions and I repel the rabbits at the same time. Good luck! You have an amazing garden!

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    1. That's a great idea with the onions! I'll have to keep that in mind once I get rid of all the grass and weeds around the perimeter. I couldn't do storage onions as I have onion fly/maggot issues (I have netted my beds this year to see if I can keep them away from the bulbs), but I could try spring onions that mature relatively quickly.

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  7. I feel your weed battling pain! Our veg patch used to be a field so we are always fighting the weeds who have been there for years and feel it is their right to remain! Our garden is also an 'over the years' process, it's great to work on but occasionally I think 'couldn't I just win the lottery and just hire someone to finish this!' :)

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    1. Boy, it would be great to hand over a cheque and have everything magically completed in a few days. But when I'm out there lugging mulch, I just think of all that great exercise I'm getting - sure beats going to the gym! I hope you are closer to finishing up your garden than I am mine...although it's never truly finished, is it ;)

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  8. Dang, woman---you have been busy! And that's crazy with the price differences for the same posts!! Good thing you checked around--that's a lot of savings!

    I tried mulching over "ditch lilies" a few years back. Piled a foot of donkey doo on top of cardboard and STILL the lilies came through. I sure wish our vegetable crops were as persistent as those things we're trying to get rid of--LOL!

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    1. That's so true - as I see the cardboard lifting through the mulch, I'll stamp it down with my foot. Don't think it does much good, but I have to try. It definitely would be nice if our veg were that tough. And why can't the slugs eat up those weeds instead of my plants? Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever seen a slug on a weed - those smart little mollusks!

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  9. What tremendous progress. I'm looking forward to more pictures of the reclamation project. I hope your hilltop garden isn't too far a hike from your house--that makes the chores extra difficult. Haha, you have a fencepost smuggling operation.

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    1. It's not far at all, only about 125' or so from the back of our house. It definitely isn't as convenient as the other two areas that are in the main yard. Eventually I'm thinking of putting mostly long maturing crops there - things like corn, dried beans, onions, etc - the kind of stuff that takes a long time to mature and you pick within a relatively short time period.

      I had never done a cross border trip just to go shopping until this year as it always seemed like such a big deal. But I was in and out within a few hours (I went to other stores too - had to take advantage!), there was zero wait at the customs office & I only had to pay gst, no duty. Easy peasy!

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  10. Hooray for creating such a cool garden and good luck with the rabbits. They devoured part of my garden one year. I was so mad. They kept eating the same plants until they died. I wonder why the previous owners needed such a large fire pit? I wonder what they were roasting!

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    1. I never thought of that - they were apparently a little odd, so I'd better not speculate ;)

      I actually stopped planting annuals after the few I put in were gobbled up within a couple of weeks - it was quite disappointing. I'm sure I'll give it another go at some point, but do some research on rabbit resistant varieties first.

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