Wenas Campout

IMG_0136This blog has been very heavy on the gardening content lately. It’s time for a change of pace.

This Memorial Day weekend we took a break from gardening to join our friends Todd and Kei Chi at the annual Audubon Society campout in the Wenas River valley near Yakima. Since 1963, bird watchers and nature lovers have been coming together to spend an extended weekend in this wonderful place. The birds are definitely the main attraction – you can regularly encounter over 120 different species – but the Wenas valley is also remarkable for its wildflowers, hilltop views, and diversity of habitats.

Wendy and I are not exactly avid birders, but at this gathering of bird enthusiasts it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement. Birders may be considered a bit of an oddball group, but they are extremely welcoming and love to introduce newcomers to their passion. When you take the time to look closely – and with the assistance of some high-powered binoculars – you quickly gain a new sense of appreciation for birds. The variety of shapes, sizes, color, and behavior is amazing. We also became more aware of the different calls and songs of various species, ranging from the raucous call of the Nutcracker and the tin horn sound of the Nuthatch, to the sweet trills of the many kinds of warblers.

Some of the birds native to the area are quite rare and birders come from all over the world to see them. We were lucky enough to encounter several of these, notably the White-headed Woodpecker and Lewis’ Woodpecker. Our night-time quest for the Flammulated Owl was not successful, but for us novices it was just as much fun to observe common species such as Red-winged Blackbirds, Kingbirds, or Turkey Vultures.

One of the highlights was inspecting Bluebird breeding boxes. Volunteers visit these weekly to track breeding success. We were assigned a set of 15 boxes and asked to note number of eggs, number and age of hatchlings, species, etc. It was a rare opportunity to see these beautiful birds up close.

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Here are some more photos.

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Tough Lessons

This gardening year has been a bad one for all kinds of pests and diseases. I recount some of our experiences on the Brandon Street site.

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Apples and Peaches

Linking to a couple of recent posts on the other gardening blog:

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Composting in Place

Now that the weather is really warming up, things are growing like crazy … including the weeds. The dandelions are big and lush and green. So what to do with all that bio-mass that gets weeded out? In the past we’ve piled debris up in big stacks and had them picked up and hauled away – but it’s really a shame to lose all the nutrients contained in that plant matter. Since we want to build, not deplete, our soil, nutrients should be cycled back in.

For a while we had a compost pile. That was not ideal either: it dried out; we didn’t turn it; it got contaminated with noxious weeds. We were never able to obtain viable compost from that pile.

IMG_0084Finally I have hit on a good solution: composting in place. Now, when I weed a bed in preparation for planting, I throw all the compostable plants into a shallow trench next to the bed. The noxious weeds still go to the trash pile, but that’s a very small amount. In the end I have a weed-free bed and a mini-compost trench. There are many advantages to this system:

  • Since it’s enclosed by soil, things break down much faster
  • Nutrients are released right where they are needed, instead of having to be spread
  • No ugly compost piles to offend the eye
  • The filled-in compost trench can do double duty as a path or a swale, making more efficient use of the space

If you’ve been unhappy with the amount of effort it takes to build, turn, and spread your compost, give composting in place a try.

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Oblique Cordon

IMG_0013Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Well, that might apply to our espalier efforts, because we have not yet had any fruit to speak of from our espaliers planted in 2010. Yet here we are, planting another row of espalier.

While some people might just think of us as mad gardeners, there is a method to the madness. This year we actually had nice blooms on 3 out of 5 of our 2010 trees, so there is hope. And the 5 tiered horizontal cordons simply look great, lending a certain air of formal dignity that nicely offsets the more chaotic natural parts of our garden.

IMG_0082And it’s not the same thing: this time we planted the trees to form oblique cordons, though it will take a few years until you can appreciate them. Confused about oblique versus horizontal? Here is a site with excellent illustrations of some of the more popular forms of espalier.

I am very excited about this addition to our garden. It more than doubled the number and varieties of apple and pear trees on our little lot (some of them are 2-way grafts). And being in a prime location with lots of warmth and sun, I expect them to start fruiting before 2020.

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