What is Moon Planting?

I had no idea that the concept of planting by moon phases even existed until I stumbled upon The Old Farmers Almanac website (not to be confused with the Farmers Almanac…which I think is VERY confusing) when I was looking for the average last frost date and “what to plant now” guide for my area.

The concept of Moon Planting has been around FOREVER (dawn of time) but the actual science behind it is a bit unclear (completely unproven).  But – I love learning about something new and I like the structure that Moon Planting suggests (which may be the real reason some people think it works)

I was having a hard time summarizing the Moon Planting suggestions I was finding so I cobbled together (with bits and pieces from various sites) a visual guide.

Moon Planting - tar2trees.com

Moon Planting Theories

These are the main theories I could find (during my exhaustive 15min search via google) on why Moon Planting may work:

    1. Gravitational pull affects how water is moved around in the plant and the soil (tidal theory).  In theory then a waning moon would allow the water to be pulled deeper into the soil (good for root veggies) than during a waxing moon when the gravitational pull from the moon.
    2. The amount of moonlight affects certain plants growth cycle

These theories are somewhat “debunked” in the skeptics guide to Moon Planting.  One debunking explanation that I find particularly interesting is that by not planting everything as soon as the weather turns nice you decrease the chances of being hit by an unexpected late frost since in some cases you have to wait until the next moon cycle.  Plus, spreading out your planting lowers the risk of other environmental and pest related incidents.

I just may give this a shot this year…why not?  I need a planting calendar anyway!  Here is the link I’m using for my area for tracking the current moon phase.

What do you know about Moon Planting?  Have you ever tried it?

The Great Spring Strawberry Migration

This isn’t the first plant migration my yard has seen…last year I moved some “Snow on the Mountain” plants to make room for the raised beds I would build later….now being referred to  as The Great Snow Migration.

Snow Migration 2012

This year I’ve decided to move some strawberry plants I planted last year from an 8′ x 4′ Raised Bed (32 sq. ft) to the other side of the driveway from the “snow” to a 25′ x ~3′ Driveway strip (75 sq. ft).  I planted some blueberry plants in this strip last year, and they are doing great, but I didn’t have a vision for the rest of the bed…so Mother Nature decided to fill it in with weeds. 32 sq.ft just isn’t enough space for my strawberries to really thrive and it seemed like a poor use of a raised bed.

Strawberry Migration

I’m happy with the move, I have a newly vacant raised bed in a prime location in my yard, and I can check off the drive-way beds as complete! (How how I love to check things off my list!)

Bugging Out

I’ve been inspired lately to attract “beneficial bugs” to my yard. Part of the attraction has been aesthetic (bug houses just look cool), part has been my desire to reuse every little thing that I (or someone else) would normally throw away, and part has been environmentally driven.

Aesthetics

Last weekend while wandering around the local garden center, an intensely satisfying habit of mine, I found some interesting bug homes.  Since I’m planting espalier pear trees in my front yard I thought putting up some Orchard Mason Bee homes would be a good start.

Bee House

Resuse

Using the leftover bamboo  (See Thinking About Planting Bamboo? Think Again….post from last fall) and a scrap heater vent part I picked up at the Rebuilding Center last year, I set about to build my own Mason Bee home.  Some tips, try to pick bamboo with a wide hole in the middle and relatively thinner walls.  Also, avoid the section of the bamboo known as the “sheath scar“.  I found that the little bamboo tubes will not fit together snuggly if sheath scars are on the resulting bits of tube.

Bee House Contruction

And I built a more general bug house from other HVAC parts, again inspired by some pre-built products I ran across during my wandering.

Bug Houses

Environmental

If you are like me you have been sucked into an amazingly successful marking campaign for Cuties, an engineered mandarin orange. What is not to love? As sweet as a fruit can get without actually adding sugar, easy to peel, and no messy seeds! BUT (and isn’t there always a BUT?) These little modern miracles are not without their issues…as noted below via Smithsonian Magazine:

The mandarin’s perfection, however, dispenses with a relationship that’s as old as flowering plants. Like all citrus, Cuties produce seeds when they’re pollinated. To produce a dependable snack, Cutie growers must protect their orchards from bees and other pollinators via nets, physical isolation, or other means. Effectively fencing out bees from huge sources of nectar, this widespread farming practice may be a contributing factor to hive collapse. Developers of the Tango, another mandarin variety, have bypassed this issue by producing a completely sterile fruit.”

Fencing off bees?  I don’t know about you, but that can’t be a good thing.  And this little snack is selling like gangbusters…which means farmers are pulling out other less profitable crops and planting these….which further reduces the habitat of our friend the pollinating bee.  Damn It!!!  I just can’t support that practice…which is why these tasty little snacks are now off my shopping list….and on my list is putting up a few more bee homes in my own yard.

cutie-orange

Saucy!

Tomato sauce that is…this summer has been a fantastic summer in Portland for tomatoes.   I have 4 VERY healthy Sun Gold plants that have been producing consistently for over a month and they are still going.

Between my garden and CSA I’m swimming in tomatoes – so I’ve been experimenting with making tomato sauce.  I’m not a chef, I’m barely “a cook”.  I don’t like to follow recipes, I cook by gut, so I will not be able to supply accurate measurements for my current favorite basic sauce but here are my best guesses:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil (you can use less but I love the rich taste)
  • 6 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 cups finely diced onions
  • 1 cup finely diced celery
  • 1 cup shredded or finely diced carrots
  • 6 cups peeled, seeded tomatoes and diced
  • 1/4 white wine
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Pepper (to taste)
  • Butter (optional but adds richness – and who doesn’t like butter????)

Step 1:  Peel Tomatoes

I like to blanch my whole tomatoes to remove the skins.   I cut a little criss-cross on the bottom of each tomatoe and then drop them into boiling water for about 30 sec.  Remove the tomatoes and put them directly into an ice bath to stop cooking.  The skins should slide right off.  If they don’t then you can drop back in the boiling water a little longer.

Step 2:  Seed and Dice Tomatoes

This is the most tedious part of the whole process.  I put on my favorite Pandora station or podcast and settle in…it will take about a 1/2 hour.  I cut the peeled tomatoes into quarters and then scoop the seeds out with my hands over a strainer that I place sitting on a bowl (to capture the juice).  It’s messy and not pretty but worth the time.  After I’ve removed the seeds from all the tomatoes I then dice and remove any bits I don’t want in my sauce – like stems.  Keep the juice that you captured below the strainer.

Step 3:  Saute Veggies

Diced onions, celery and carrots are a base for thousands of dishes.  The French call this a Mirepoix.  Saute your mirepoix (sounds like I know what I doing now right?) and garlic until the veggies soften and the onions become translucent.  Be sure not to saute at too high of a heat or you will burn your garlic, make it incredibly bitter, which could ruin your dish (speaking from experience).

Step 4:  Cook-Down

Add tomatoes, wine, and salt and pepper and cook – cook – cook – uncovered until it’s starts to get “pasty”.  I taste as it goes and if it gets too thick you can add some of the reserved tomato juice from the seeding process or more wine depending on the taste.  It’s at this point you can add some butter as well – up to you.

I don’t add any herbs to the basic sauce.  The tomatoes are so tasty that I don’t want to hide their taste – I season later depending on the final use.

Step 5:  EAT

Use the sauce however you want.  I like mine really thick.  I just put it on pasta and add fresh basil and a really good grated parmesan.

Enjoy!

Thinking About Planting Bamboo? Think Again….

“It’s the clumping kind”

“If you plant it in the pot and cut out the bottom it won’t spread”

Have you heard these claims?  I have, and I fell for them.  I love the look of bamboo, the sound of bamboo rustling in a gentle wind, the quick screening it provides…what I don’t love is that the bamboo I planted was scheming to take over not only my yard but the whole neighborhood.   Over the two years it was growing it was secretly spreading underground until suddenly it started popping up all over, in some very inconvenient places – like in my neighbor’s yard.

I planted Black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra), which is supposed to be clumping (meaning it should not spread but grow in a controlled fashion)  As a safety precaution I also planted it within its container with only the bottom of the container removed (just in case it decideds to spread it can’t).  I’m not the only one, some very good friends of mine planted this same variety, in the same manner, a year earlier and they are now finding shoots 10 feet away, with some coming up through the their raised beds.

It was clear the bamboo had to go – and so began Operation Bamboo Extraction.  I have to say it was one of the most back-breaking projects I’ve taken on to date…meaing in my whole life.  I had to start digging in the neighbors yard and trace all the roots back the fence line.  I had lots of help from the neighbor’s 3-year-old daughter who loves dirt and loves to “help”.  I just had to keep her from falling into the holes I was propagating throughout their yard.

Once I got the problem contained back in my yard I started digging…and digging…and digging….

The whole process took me over a week.  Once I was able to get the root balls free I had to enlist help to actually get them out of the trench and into the truck.  I was left with complete mess. In the end I was sorry to lose the bamboo, it served me well during our time together but I came up with a much better use of the space.  You will see this amazing transformation in my upcoming blog post entitled “My Orchard”.

The Learning?  I’m sure if I put my mind to it I could come up with some deeper message about trying to control something you can’t, trying to force something to behave in a way that is not natural to it just to suit my needs…and the only way to truly address the problem was to dig it out by the roots…but I’m not feeling that clever at the moment…it was just a VERY difficult project so take heed my friends when the temptation to plant bamboo overcomes you too.

Solar Evaluation

One of the projects I had planned for the summer was to investigate installing solar panels on my new garage.  I had this vision that I could come home, plug-in my car in (plug-in car required), and have it powered cleanly from the sun (sun required).

The proposed location:

I thought I had the perfect spot…at least it appeared that way all winter.  What I forgot about, and what became obvious over the summer, is that my neighbor has a perfectly lovely tree in their yard that is shading my solar spot….and the tree is still growing!

The company giving me the quote ran what they call a Solar Access (the ability of one property to continue to receive sunlight across property lines without obstruction from another’s property) estimate for my location (tree shade growth not factored).  For you geeks out there here are the results:

Without the tree the numbers aren’t bad, an average of 86% over the year.  Who says Portland doesn’t get sun????  The estimated energy savings if I could achieve this level of solar access would be 2,482KW per year.  This would offset ~20% of my current usage.

The Cost:  This is where the rubber met the road….a 3kW system would cost me $17k.  The incentives are signifcant, over a 4 year period the total cost to install would end up closer to 5k.

The Final Analysis: Although this was never about the ROI, I had to crunch the numbers anyway.  Using the offset estimate, an esitmate of future electric rates, and the cost of the system after incentives…it would take 10years to pay for itself….which I found to be a bit depressing.

The Reality:  I don’t have 17k to spend right now (you will see why later) on what would essentially be a “statement” that I care about my footprint.  I have not ruled out solar (smaller system…bigger than a light and smaller than 3kW) for perhaps another spot in the yard but for now this project is “Closed”.

I’m still following the Solarize NE activities and am thrilled I live in a city with opportunities and groups like this one.

Want to be inspired? Pam Warhurst: How we can eat our landscapes

I watched this today and was truly inspired.  Watch…it’s worth the time…it’s motivating me to start planning for the garden expansion into the parking strips and the front yard…GRASS BE GONE!

Favorite quote:

“…and we have done it all without a flipping strategy document….”