Seed haul from Bainbridge Gardens
Seed haul from Bainbridge Gardens

I hadn’t been to the garden since right before Christmas so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was getting the ‘bug’ to get some seeds and plan out this year’s garden so I decided to stop by Bainbridge Gardens to see what they had available. I was also hoping they might have a small Desert King fig tree. Those are supposed to do well here. I did bring some cuttings with me and 3 have rooted but am not sure if those are Brown Turkey or Petite Nigra. Unfortuantely BG only had a couple of beautiful 6 footers. The smaller ones won’t be in for another month or so. I’m hoping to keep mine in a pot so the 6 footer would be overkill.

Perennial onions aka 'potato' onions, garlic in the background.
Perennial onions aka ‘potato’ onions, garlic in the background.

I did end up picking up some seed. I decided to try some flowers this time. I picked up a packet of Persian Violet Nigella and Persian Carpet Butterfly Zinnias. I also picked up some ‘Cut and Come Again’ baby mesclun lettuce, baby pak choi, edible pod peas, bush zucchini along with some Japanese Spinach, green onions, garlic chives (for a pot on the deck) and Litt’l Bites Cherry Windowbox Tomatoes (also for the deck). The trick in all of this will be to figure out how I am going to start the tomatoes.

Purple sprouting type of broccoli?
Purple sprouting type of broccoli?

Last fall, some time in October, I planted some Silverwhite garlic I picked up at the farmer’s market along with some Turkish Giant garlic and yellow multiplier onions (we used to call these ‘potato’ onions) from a Territorial Seed order. As I drove to the garden this morning, I wondered if the garlic and onions were up and was quite pleased with what I found. The garlic are about 3 inches tall and the onions are up about 5 or 6 inches. I didn’t expect them not to make it through but it is still nice to see them starting their journey.

One of the broccoli plants didn't make it through the Winter.
Winter fatality.

Last July or August I picked up some purple sprouting type broccoli and possibly another variety from Bainbridge Gardens, a local garden center. The end of the garden I planted these in became shady too early and I didn’t get any harvest from this planting last year. I decided to leave them in the ground to see if they could make it through the Winter and possibly reward me with something this Spring. It looks like all but one has made it through the coldest part of the year and is looking lanky but healthy. I may cut one or two back and see how they fare. Probably something I should have done last year but what he heck.

Overwintered Russian Kale
Overwintered Russian Kale

At the same time I planted the purple broccoli I put in some kale. The idea was to have it ready for this Spring. I had seen that other gardeners here had done this last year and I wanted to give it a shot. Tho the plants were fairly small, most overwintered fine.

Overwintered beets
Overwintered beets

Early last Spring I planted beets. There are probably half a dozen or so still in the ground. One or two are little piles of mush, the one on the left of this pic looks like a mouse or slug may have had a small meal.

I am amazed at how quickly moss can cover anything standing still long enough. This stone was fairly clean last Fall.



For my two Helpline rows I was assigned broccoli. I was given the seed and a planting date. Each section would have two rows on a hilled area about 18″ x 10′. I weeded, thinned and watched for pests.

Kale, Swiss Chard, Broccoli, Beans, Basil, Beets
Sept. 19, 2014

From what I had been reading, there is a fly (Delia radicum or D. brassicae) that lays its eggs at the base of cruciferous plants. There are 2 or more generations per year in the PNW according to PNW Insect Mgmt Handbook. I had lost 2 of my own broccoli plants kind of early on. As this was an organic garden I was limited in what I could do about it. I decided to make sure to plant more than I need and bag up any plants and surrounding soil that would succumb. Fortunately I only lost one of the helpline plants.

The garden was as lush and colorful as I’ve seen. The temps never seemed to get warm enough to go without a jacket through about June. I was amazed at how quickly and large the veggies grew. The days were very long in the Summer and the plants seemed to take that extra daylight and run with it. Nasturtium leaves in a neighboring plot were almost as big as dinner plates!

I planted bush beans in June. Two rows of Topcrop, my favorite. They performed wonderfully. Another two rows of beans, one of Roma and another row of Topcrop when in three weeks after the first. I had wanted to get a third planting done but it wasn’t going to happen.

Biiiig Nasturtiums
Biiiig Nasturtiums

The bean harvest went well. I canned some dilly beans and had a lot of beans to eat, give away and freeze. In 2015 I want to make sure I get that third planting in.

From everything I had read and been told tomatoes can be quite challenging in this part of the county. The Summer days are long but not typically hot like tomatoes like. The soil never really warms up till much too late for long season varieties. Early tomatoes and cherry tomatoes are about all that one can reliably grow in the garden here according to fellow gardeners unless there is a micro-climate to warm things up. I ended up trying three different varieties. Celebrity, a short season paste tomato and a short season grape tomato. I ended up getting maybe a dozen or so from each and it was a fairly decent tomato season from what people say. My plots are on the side of the garden that doesn’t get direct sun quite as long as some of the others, probably hurting my yield even more. It was hardly worth the effort. I did grow a Celebrity in a pot on the balcony and got the best yield I’ve ever had from a container grown tomato. It is the only way I will attempt it this year.

Good Guys and Bad Guys

Black Slug (Arion ater) on Tomato
Black Slug (Arion ater) on Tomato

As for pests, I was warned about slugs and diseases mostly. I had used some Sluggo early on but other than that didn’t treat with anything. Late in the Summer I did find a black slug on a tomato. I found a few more of the same species and an unknown species of a smaller slug throughout the year. I tried to keep the ground cleaned up to discourage them hanging out. Occasionally I would leave a broccoli leaf on the ground after a watering and come back the next day to remove the few slugs that had gathered under it to keep cool.

Yellow Fronted Bumble Bee (Bombus flavifrons) on lavender
Yellow Fronted Bumble Bee (Bombus flavifrons) on lavender

There were a few cabbage moths on my broccoli but a once ever each week kept them clean. I was struck by the lack of pests really. I only lost those few broccoli plants to the cabbage maggot early on and the kale had some powdery mildew but that was it.

I noticed a yellow bee on the lavender flowers that I had never come across before. A little digging told me it was a Yellow Fronted Bumble Bee. Their numbers were high which was encouraging. There were honey bees too, great for pollination.

Spotted Towhee - Rock Farm, Bainbridge Island, WA
Spotted Towhee – Rock Farm, Bainbridge Island, WA

The garden is surrounded by a very tall fence to keep the deer out. They can jump quite high so the fence has to be taller than they can jump or there is no point in having one. All of the fence posts have little bird houses on them. They aren’t active bird houses as wasps kept building nests in them which became problematic. They are just for decoration. The birds still love to sit up on top of them and sing their beautiful songs.

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) on Lily
Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) on Lily

A Western Tiger Swallowtail stayed long enough for me to get some great shots on one Summer visit.

Pacific Tree Frog
Pacific Tree Frog

This little Pacific Tree Frog was on the Helpline broccoli. Probably one reason I rarely saw any pests there. He kept turning his back to me when I would try to take his picture. Apparently he is a bit camera shy.

The European Garden Spider featured on this post was fairly common too. I’m sure there were others but it was the only spider I saw in the garden.

Homade Birdbath Project

I was browsing the Net looking for a birdbath project and ran into this one. Basically you take a really large leaf (think elephant ears or something simliar), some sand and acrylic concrete patch and in the end you have a beautiful birdbath the shape of a leaf. I love this idea and do believe this is my next project.


The project I started just about 2 years ago has been finished. The outer, protective layer went on this weekend. It consisted of a 1:2 clay:sand mix and was probably the easiest part of the entire project. To give it a textured finish I lit a drying fire and waited a few hours then made imprints of my hands all over it. The photo below is before that final touch.

As this dries it will form small cracks. I’ve saved back some of the clay/sand mix to fill in those cracks. It may very well crack when it heats up too. It doesn’t hurt the oven any but is just a natural effect of the expansion that happens when it heats to over 600F.

Another step done & that first meal

This past weekend the insulation layer went on. It involved 2 trips to the cemetery for buckets of clay and a trip to WallyWorld for a bale of hamster bedding. The hardest part was turning the clay from large chunks into slip. Lots of stomping and twisting left me with a sore knee. A small price to pay for having it behind me. It ended up taking about a bale and a half of bedding and roughly 6 buckets of clay chunks. Some of the clay was so pure I could have thrown pottery had I had access to a wheel. I kept some back to play with. I heard once that you could fire clay in a bbq. I was pondering the possibility of making a small oil lamp like days of old. Something to try at a later date.

first 'real' fire. The venting was perfect.

By Saturday at about lunchtime I had about 1/3 of the insulation layer done. It was a little wetter than ideal so I had to use bricks to keep it from shifting and becoming an insulation skirt. I decided to light a fire to help with the drying and wait till Sunday to finish. I lit a roaring fire and was very pleased with the way it vented. My measurements must have been on the money because the fire burned bright deep inside the oven. I let it burn for about an hour and decided that it would be a waste to not take advantage of the heat. Once the fire started to die down a bit I used a hoe to move the coals back and to the sides. I covered the oven opening with a large piece of firebrick that I will use as a temporary door. I remembered the ham steaks in the freezer and I knew I had a bag of beans. Ten minutes later I was loading the oven with a dutch oven filled with ham and beans. I replaced the brick ‘door’ and waited. 3 1/2 hours later and the beans were PERFECT and just in time for dinner. I think I’m going to like this.

The summers here are notorious for being hot and dry. This is half true this year. We have had some pretty warm temps but have had rain regularly. Great for the lawn but not so great when the goal is to dry out a mound of wet clay. I finished the insulation layer on Sunday at about lunchtime. I started another large fire and let it burn for about an hour. Once it died down I again covered the opening. The outer layer was quite warm to the touch and given the amt of heat coming from the front I was unable to cover it with the plastic tarp. Instead I covered the top 2/3 with a couple of layers of newspaper and used small pieces of broken brick to hold them in place. I had to leave for a couple of hours and of course we got a small rain storm while I was gone. I wasn’t too worried though. As long as the news paper stayed in place I felt like the added water would pretty much just run off and take very little if any clay with it. This was in fact the case. It has take a couple of small showers since then with the same results. I did cover it last night as they were calling for some more severe rain. I was glad I did as it got pretty windy and wet for a while there. The heat index for the next couple of days is over 100 and it is supposed to be rain free. The oven is uncovered and I have high hopes that it will at some point actually dry. I expect to see some rather large cracks in the insulation layer once it does finally dry. Before cleanup I held back some clay/wood mix to patch those when the time comes.

The insulation layer completed.

After a long break

So two years ago I started this oven project. I had high hopes of finishing it that year but starting grad school left me with little free time and the weather soon turned to insure it wasn’t happening in 09. 2010 started out great, I was ready to get back into the mud once the weather warmed. Life had a different plan for me last year and lets just say I was left not wanting to get into much of anything. 2011 is a new year and time to get back into this project. Last weekend I untarped the mud foundation and found a small ant colony had taken up residence. I checked the base for structural soundness and when I was confident I put down the layer of sand and firebrick floor. The ants and I had a talk. I let them know it was time to leave. They will be gone this weekend.

I opted to make the bricks ahead of time and use the 2:1 sand:clay mix as a mortar. I dipped each ‘brick’ into water coating on all sides to help the wet mortar to stick. The bricks were surprisingly tough and water resistant. I opted for a firebrick arch which required a wooden support to assemble. The arch turned out to be the trickiest part of the project so far. Making sure the inner corners of the bricks were supported by other bricks while not falling required several tries to get it right. I am hopeful this holds with repeated heating and cooling. Time will tell. The beauty of a clay oven is that repairs are possible without too much work. If I determine that the brick arch isn’t going to work I can always opt for a clay/sand doorway.

Firebrick floor and first row of oven bricks

By the end of Saturday the inner layer was half done. As I added layers I would wet the top of the previous layer of bricks if it had dried out. Using the pre-made bricks meant I hadn’t had to use a sand mold up to that point. I had a cardboard cutout of the 22″ diameter dome shape that I used when placing the bricks. I made sure that the bricks touched each other on all sides in the inside of the oven. I stopped Saturday when it became apparent that I would need some kind of support for the rest of the dome.

On Sunday morning I cut out a wooden circle slightly larger than the remaining opening. I cut it in half to get it inside the oven and placed it on a couple of stacks of bricks. I piled sand to complete the dome shape and continued to lay ‘brick’ and build the firebrick arch. The last couple of bricks had to be shaped to a v shape to go into the remaining space. I was pleased at how much work it took to cut these down with the edge of a hand trowel. By Sunday evening the ‘inner sanctum’ was complete. Since the bulk of the oven was already dry at this point I removed the wooden support for the arch and sand dome. It held beautifully.

completed inner lay of the mud oven

By Tuesday it was dry on the outside but the inside was still damp. I was needing to tarp it for a coming rain and wanted the inside a little drier. I opted for a small newspaper only fire to test the drafting and dry things out a bit. It performed like a champ.

Once I get back from vacation I will add the insulation layer and the outer layer. My wish is to make a lime plaster outer layer but I may end up doing a clay sand layer first if I can’t come up with the lime to make the lime putty. I should have my first pizza later next month. :-)