Straw Bale Gardening

Straw bale gardening is easy, fun and  you to improve the soil while you decide what you what to do with a patch of ground. I’ll be planting a few bales at our annual Nichols Garden Nursery “Plant Day” this coming Saturday, May 16th. Varied crops will be growing for months since I plant greens, tomatoes, peas, beans, and peppers. When I plant peas and beans I always use legume inoculant so I don’t need to supplement with fertilizer. “Legume inoculant” allows these plants to utilize atmospheric nitrogen with nitrogen rich root nodules. Sounds complicated but works beautifully and results count.

Welcome our new straw bale blogging partner, fellow garden writer, Patsy Bell Hobson from Cape Giradeau, MO. She’ll also be growing a straw bale garden and I’ve included a link to her blog “Oh Grow Up”. You can follow two experienced gardeners living in very different environments using straw bales. See the  link to her site on the blogroll to the right of this page.

strawbales

Last week I was in Anchorage, AK and spoke to University of Alaska Master Gardeners on Container and Small Space Food Gardening and  on straw bale gardening. I hope these Master Gardeners  ask questions and report their results. Anchorage was warmer and sunnier than here in Western Oregon. I think the incomparable beauty of Anchorage and the surrounding area shall be forever imprinted in my mind.

After talking with gardeners and growers from this area I realize the need for short season varieties that get off to a fast start. We’ll be looking for these characterics in our summer trials. It’s not only Alaska needing fast maturing varieties but gardeners from Montana to Maine who persevere and grow great gardens. It’s May and we are all eager to once again experience the joy of gardening.

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Garden Talks

Keane and I are leaving for Central Oregon today where I will give talks on Successful Food Gardening in Central Oregon and a demonstration talk on Edible Container Gardening. Of course I’ll be signing copies of McGee & Stuckey’s The Bountiful Container. A few more talks are coming up, May 9th I’ll speak in Anchorage at a Master Gardening conference on “Growing Food in Containers & Small Spaces” and “Straw Bale Gardening”. June 27th I’ll be at The New York Botanical Garden for their kickoff event on a program series on edible gardening. I will present a demonstration and talk on growing “Food Plants, Herbs & Edible Flowers in Containers”. This speaking season then winds up with a talk at the annual Oregon State Master Gardener mini college on “Successful Food Gardening in Container & Small Spaces”, Thursday, August 7th.

Our annual Nichols Garden Nursery Plant Day is Saturday May 16th 2009. We always have an annual sale, light refreshment and demonstrations. This year I’ll be demonstrating straw bale planting and we are working on a new garden in the style of a home garden planted all in containers with a couple Adirondack chairs for visitors to sit, relax and enjoy the surroundings. As this comes along I’ll post photos.

It’s been a busy year and I’m so impressed with this renaissance in food gardening. There has been much interest in vegetables and cooking but now people seem to be taking it to their own homes whether it is the backyard or front yard they are planting gardens. A healthy well grown plant is always a thing of beauty whether it be a gorgeous muticolored ruffled lettuce or the latest petticoated heauchera. Gardening keeps us in contact with nature and that part of ourselves that grows a little more as we nurture our gardens, our loved ones, and ourselves.

Portland Yard, Garden Patio Show

I’m in Portland at the annual YGP show at the Oregon Convention Center this weekend. If you’re looking for a jumpstart on spring and summer this is the place to be. What first caught my eye was  a fence of espaliered apple trees surrounding a flourishing potager garden. In the corner is a cozy chicken coop, one chicken laid an egg yesterday and happily announced her achievement to the world. However, my heart went pit pat when I saw all our Nichols Garden Nursery seed packets used as row markers for the peas, mizuna, mustards, lettuce and more. To our happy surprise the vegetable garden was planted entirely with Nichols seeds. We are not able to down load this photo until we’re back home but I do want everyone to have a chance to see how a productive urban garden can be packed with comfort and charm. This garden from Barbara Simon Landscape Design and Alfred Dinsdale Landscape Contractors received the prestigious “Best of Show Award” features an outdoor cooking and eating area and is an inspiring mixture of enchantment and practicality. Top garden speakers, a multitude of garden products, including Nichols Garden Nursery seeds, plants, bulbs and more  signal we are quickly moving  to the longer days for spring and summer. Come to the show to look, listen and shop and learn. I may even have found some beautiful concrete pavers to easily build a new patio.

Go  to this blog by Kym Pokorny, from the Oregonian for a wonderful garden photo with the potager somewhat hidden.  http://blog.oregonlive.com/kympokorny/     Since I’m not at home with some of my tools you may need to cut and paste this url.

I see it’s time to begin sowing tomatoes, peppers, celeriac, leeks, eggplant and in a couple of weeks get basil started so all will be ready for May transplanting. If you’re sowing leek, onion or shallot seeds go back and see Easy Gardening tips from March 4th 2008 for an easy start on these valuable vegetables.

Wearing Her Laurels

A crown of laurel leaves for high achievement is a tradition dating back to the ancient Greeks. Our niece, Emily, recently graduated from high school. Because she was her class valedictorian and all-around wonderful person we made her a wreath of fresh bay. The freshly picked leafy stems are woven into a circle and tied with green floral tape. The soft young leaves were snipped off leaving only the sturdier year old growth. A wreath like this easily dries and can be saved as a memento or hung in the kitchen for cooking.

A few years ago we were in Padua during university graduation festivities. All the Baccalaureates were wearing wreaths on their heads or around their necks.

Laurus nobilis “the true bay”

Bay Laurel tree

Laurus nobilis plants are the source of culinary bay, a handsome tree that grows throughout the Mediterranean. This herb has a flavor and aroma that is mildly spicy and warm, and seems to pull other savory flavors together in soups, stews and sauces. Usually, the tough leaf is left whole and should be removed before serving. Sometimes you will see recipes calling for 1 Turkish Bay leaf or 1/2 a California Bay leaf. Turkish bay is Laurus nobilis, sometimes called Grecian bay, Mediterranean bay, or true bay, is the plant of cookery and myth

California Bay “Umbellularia californica” is a different plant entirely, and while the leaves have a similar texture the flavor properties are quite different. The flavor and fragrance of California bay is quite pungent and harsh and I never cook with it. Both plants are growing at my home and I occasionally pick a leaf of each, crush and smell in wonderment as to why some food writers continue to instruct “use one Turkish Bay leaf or 1/2 California Bay leaf”. Julia Child, a native of California, was disdainful of California Bay for cooking and in my talks I often say if it wasn’t good enough for Julia it’s not good enough for us.

True Bay, is native to the Mediterranean basin. Italian restaurants often use containerized Bay plants to create outdoor walls and extend seating. Bay, when grown in the ground is hardy to Zone 7. Plants grow in full sun to half shade. Give them a light fertilizing and regular watering the first season and once they are established they can pretty much fend for themselves. Evergreen trees may eventually reach 15′ in height. I recommend regular pruning. The tree in this photo is at our nursery. It grew too large for the assigned space and every three years we cut it to the ground and it happily sprouts from the stump to produce a nice oval bush in a few months.

Our nursery and others offer bay plants for sale. Grow as a single tree, a shrub or planted as a hedge. Because it is such a useful herb and tolerates some shade it is one to add to the garden.

Nichols Plant Day 2008

Our annual Nichols Plant Day is Saturday, May 17th 2008 this year. It has been a busy week preparing for our annual event, readying the gardens and planting our annual garden. We are just north of Albany, OR and an easy exit off I5. I’ve planted new straw bales, we’ve built a new bed using the Nichols method how to grow carrots without a spade or hoe, our herb display garden is beginning to flower. We’re also fixing a few herbal recipes for you including our lavender ice cream and saffron lemonade.

When this is finished I’ll have time to post and plant my own garden. After a long cool spring, we’re expected to reach 95 today. This is not the energizing pre celebration weather we requested. Oh well! If you are traveling in Oregon you should know we have a display herb garden, an AAS display garden and garden demos. We’re closed Sundays, open Monday through Saturday and visitors are always welcome.

The Bountiful Container

I’m happy to announce the fourth printing of McGee & Stuckey’s, The Bountiful Container is now available. This 432 page book is a complete guide growing container gardens of vegetables, herbs, fruits and edible flowers. We’ve included recipes for using your home grown goods. Maggie and I researched soils, containers, fertilizing and every aspect of what gardeners encounter when growing in containers. I love experimenting with new techniques and varieties using pots and small space gardening. If your garden is horizontally challenged, think vertically! If you only have space for herbs, a few salad greens and a tomato in a large pot think how much flavor and variety you’ll add to your household.

This weekend, May 10th, I’ll be speaking and signing books at the Oregon City Farmers Market. Saturday, May 17, is the annual Nichols Garden Nursery Plant Day. If you’re in the area, drop by and enjoy light herbal refreshment, gardening demonstrations, tours of the herb garden and a great sale on plants and other gardening items.