Musings from a Mid-Summer Urban Oasis

“Dry” describes this years’ conditions so far, at Barefoot Permaculture Orchard & Gardens, in the southern Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina, USA. Although we collect roof rainwater by intercepting at the downspouts, in this dry growing season, it’s never enough.

Dunstan zone 6 Grapefruit survived winter...

Dunstan zone 6 Grapefruit survived winter…

Our highest use of collected rainwater is for our plant starts; many from saved seeds. Once these seedlings are in the ground, other than their initial watering, we must use city water (chlorinated) to keep them alive between the scanty rains. (Our plants do not thrive on city water, but it does keep them alive).

5' Tomatoes Still Heading Upward... supported by A-Frame wire fencing...

5′ Tomatoes Still Heading Upward…

Counterintuitively, most of our perennials and annuals are looking good: dry conditions can hold disease issues at bay (at least until humidity increases). Mid-July’s 1& 1/2″ rain brought some relief, as well as aggressive mosquitos and humidity.

Easiest to Grow Winter Squash: From the Compost

Easiest to Grow Winter Squash: From the Compost

Suddenly, tomatoes, heavy with green fruit,  began showing signs of early and late blight.

Moisture issues notwithstanding, a  major issue profoundly affecting Barefoot Gardens are the “over-the-top” populations of Pine Voles ( Microtus pinetorum ): a below-ground dwelling, mouse-like rodent, with a truncated tail, and a huge appetite for plant roots.

Unlike Moles ( Scapanus spp.) whose tunnelings result in raised lifting of the soil, vole tunnels cannot be visually identified. As of 2 years ago, when the vole population skyrocketed, whenever I notice a plant (annual or perennial) looking a little wilted or canted (off center), I drop to my knees alongside the plant, and thrust my fingers into the soil within 5” (or so) of the stem, and probe for vole tunnels. These horizontal runs are usually 2”-5” deep, and run towards the plant.

Vertical Gardening: Winter Squash headed sunward in Apple tree...

  Winter Squash in Apple tree…

Often, in cases of severe damage, I find multiple tunnels. On these  occasions, it takes all I can do to save the plant; be it a tomato or a 15 year old Apple tree.

Almost Vole-Killed Apple, Successfully Grafted to a Limbertwig

Vole-Damaged Apple,  Now a Limbertwig…

In the case of the apple (winter damaged), there were not enough roots remaining to support budding out the above ground tree. I cut the 6 “ diameter stem to 8” in height, and grafted on several different varieties of apple. There was enough root remaining to activate one graft, so instead of a total loss, where there was once a maturing Enterprise, there now stands a young Limbertwig.

In both cases (annual and perennial), the first response is threefold: collapse the tunnels (maybe fill them with small, sharp rocks); water the root area copiously; and feed the root zone with a seaweed solution (rejuvenates and aids root growth).

Bagged Grapes... Intent: to keep predators off the still green grapes...

Bagged Grapes: to keep predators off the grapes…

Whenever I teach “Home Orcharding” classes, I recommend  with any planting, and especially for fruits, to (at the same time), plant garlic cloves in the plant hole; ringing the stem around 5”-7” out, every 2”. (This garlic to never to be harvested; for protection only).

Catbirds Show Us What They Think of Our Efforts

Catbirds Show Us What They Think of Our Efforts

Whenever we find a vole-made opening (for occasional exit/entry) We set out, immediately next to the hole, a mousetrap baited with peanut butter, and cover trap and hole with a dark bucket (to keep out light). From one run, we have caught as many as 8 voles over a 2 day period.

After all the damages (many plant deaths and set-backs) committed by voles, I have to admit feeling some pleasure to lift up a bucket and find a caught vole half eaten by its’ fellows.

Living in relationship with an urban oasis is absolute delight; yet this too  has drawbacks.

One of Our Good Friends!

One of Our Good Friends!

Last year, while standing off to the side of our Montmorency Pie Cherry, and noticing 2 Catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) fly into our site, for some unknown reason the veils temporarily lifted, and I was able to understand bird language. One said “wow! look at all this wild food”!

I immediately responded (in English) “NO! This is not wild! We planted and care for these fruits!

Alas, the veils already closed: they did not hear me…

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About goodheart

Education: Warren Wilson College (BA Environmental Studies) 1987: University of Wisconsin Stevens Point (MSc. Natural Resources) 2005 Permaculture Design Certificate (The Farm, TN) 1994 Presidential Volunteer Award: 2005, 2006, 2007 Experiences: National and international Permaculture teacher and practitioner since 1995; Sustainable land use and permaculture consultant; International consultant for small plot sustainable agriultural projects; Home orchard consultant; Endangered species observer for sea-turtle and whale projects; Field biologist and naturalist; Gourmet natural food chef and teacher; Home baker (artisan breads) brewer & fermenter; Home orchardist; BeeKeeper; Ecological gardener; Broom-maker in the Southern Highland Craft Guild, and general bio-philiac...
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