Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Today was one of the highlights of my entire summer. A wild honey bee swarm took up residence it the empty box in the bee yard! One of the P.S.A. team members asked me how much I thought it had to do with all the flowers I planted there and I (facetiously) answered: "Everything!" Truth be told, I have no way of knowing why these rambunctious bees chose that spot. My best guess is that it was a combination of things. The fact that the box was still there in the first place. The little patties of bee food that were still placed inside the hive. Maybe the bee attractive landscape. One thing I am pretty sure of...these bees would have given it a pass if it had still been a junk yard. In absence of proof to the contrary, I am taking this as the ultimate validation of my project. Yeah bees!!

Friday, August 5, 2011

The End.

(Thank you to Vanessa for the help with those final pictures!)
The project I started back in November/December 2010 draws to a close, at least for me. I don't know what will happen now to the ground I cleared and planted but it is out of my hands. This project has been a lot of fun and a lot of work but I learned a lot too.

The soil in Area One was heavily amended with vermicompost and the farm's windrow compost. I went a little heavy on purpose for two reasons; One, I thought that soil was in pretty bad shape having been covered by an impermeable tarp for who knows how long and Two, I intended to plant that area heavily in an effort to out establish intentional competition before the invasives had time to re-establish. In a normal back-yard setting you might not be able to get this kind of plant density. Though the plantings did seriously deter the Morning Glory (though did not eliminate it), there were some drawbacks to planting this heavily. In this picture, taken in late July, the chamomile has been cut out. It was pretty played out and going to seed and then we had a big rain storm and it lodged over on top of the purple basil. The echinacea planted between the calendula and the dill was more or less smothered. I still think it will make a showing but probably not this year. It was also hard to get in and weed out the unintentional plants.

(Thank you to Vanessa for the help with those final pictures!)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Of Wind, Water, and Unexpected Harvests...

Many thanks to farm hands Lauren and Kyle, as well as to the unnamed random visitor to the farm, for your help weeding Area Two this week. Much appreciated.

The new insect group examines the honey bee hive. This hive has had a hard time. It was thriving in February (see This Post ) but then all of March, April and May were unusually rainy and cold.

During those cold, wet months the hive experienced mold, mildew, mites and ants. Meanwhile the queen seemed to be acting odd. The former bee group did what they could but in the end the hive started to falter.

After this examination the bee group pronounced this hive nearly dead. My theory is that because the queen was acting strange the hive swarmed taking a good part of the population with it. At the same time, the queen did not produce a replacement population so as the worker bees died of natural causes there were fewer and fewer to replace them. The bees did not die off of unnatural causes they simply were not replaced.
 Bad news for the honey bees, but on the bright side, the overall bee and pollinator 
health seems to be thriving. Here are some pictures of the activity in the bee yard. 
The flowers are swarming with insects. It is gratifying to see all the activity.
A bee says hello to the calendula.

Here is a bee coming in for a landing on the phacelia.


On Thursday I came in to find that several flowers had been harvested out of the bee yard. The cut stumps of phacelia and sunflower were the most obvious. In consulting with the farm manager I discovered that the PSA students had harvested the flowers based on a "misunderstanding." There was a rumor that these flowers had been offered up for sale at the campus farmers market. The harvest of a few flowers was not a huge deal but the trampling of the planted area was unacceptable.

"Too 'In Your Face'." - Farm Manag

It was suggested to me by farm staff that I make a sign for the area to reduce the possibility of new misunderstandings. Here was my first sign.
The farm manager objected to my first sign as being too
"In your face", too big, and too close to the path. She
suggested a smaller sign, set
back in the yard.

This was
my second sign. So far there have been no objections to this one.

Notice the soaker hoses in the above picture. I planted several herbs and ground cover in Area Three and am experimenting with different watering strategies.

Another challenge was the big wind storm we had on Thursday. I came in Friday to find all the sunflowers lopped over onto the dill. I ended up spending a good part of the day tying them up to supports. Since sunflowers track with the sun I tried not to tie them too high which might have impeded their movement.

In the community garden next door a large sunflower also blew down and it snapped off at the base. None of the bee yard sunflowers broke and I think I was able to save most of them. I attribute their survival to the presence of the dill in front of them and also to the fact that I had done a heavy watering that day so their whole root mass leaned with them and helped prevent snapping off.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Amelia's Phacelias

Click on flower pictures for a larger view


At the suggestion of one of the greatest PSA students ever I planted a patch of Phacelia in the bee yard.

This variety, Phacelia tanacetifolia also known as Lacey Phacelia is a gorgeous plant that the bees go wild for. 

 The foliage is beautiful too and it was a joy to watch this plant grow. Now it is coming into bloom.

Many thanks for the great suggestion, Amelia! I call the patch "Amelia's Phacelias" and you have made a lot of  bees very happy.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011 Area Three.

The project this week (in addition to the on-going weeding and watering) was to prepare "Area Three". In the original planting plan (see earlier post) this area was going to be where I put a table and chairs, amidst a variety of plants, for farm students, staff, and faculty to sit. The Honey Bee Group was going to move the hive(s) along the fence in Area Two and Area Two was going to be planted in ground hugging flowering cover crops.

This would have been a better place for a table because it is more accessible than Area Two but unfortunately the plans of the Honey Bee Group fell through and the hive was not expanded or moved. I planted the plants I had for this area in Area Two (it is a larger area so I did not get the coverage I wanted but it is working out ok). By then the new PSA class was getting well established and I thought some of them might be interested in doing something with this area so I left it alone for a while.

At this point no one from that class has expressed any interest and the site has been getting progressively more overgrown with unintentional plants (I am avoiding using the word "weed").  This is how the site looked this week.

Here it is part way through the process of prepping. You can't tell from this picture but I have dug down fairly deep here. Initially to try to get the deeper rooted plants out and make a deep seed bed, and then to bury some of the weeds I removed.

I learned this week that the farm is no longer going to make any compost, so there is no place to pile crop residue and weeds. I have to admit I was in a state of disbelief when I heard the farm was going to get all it's compost from off-site. Soil fertility building and composting were such a big element of the PSA class I was in, and it was one of my main topics on interest that I just found it hard to grasp the idea that it wasn't happening any more. I am very grateful I went through PSA before this policy went in place.
Sad sunflowers

Prep almost done

I found these sunflowers wilted away in the unheated greenhouse. These were plants I started from seed. A couple of PSA class members asked me to leave them any extra plants I had for use in some of their project areas but none of the plants got used and they were not taken care of. I went ahead and planted these poor little plants but I don't have very high hopes for their survival. Not just because of their weak, spindly condition but because of the poor quality of the soil in Area Three.

I added a few wheelbarrow loads of compost from the wind row in the driveway. It has a lot of carbon material in it (wood chips) but I think it will improve the soils fertility somewhat and also the water holding/drainage capacity of the soil. I am not sure, however, if it will be good enough to nurse those sunflowers back to health (planted upper left by door).

Side Note: Notice the patch under the bee hive that still looks messy? I just can't lift those 
heavy concrete blocks to get the rest of the plywood out so for now it's going to stay. 
I think the plywood was part of the "mulch" project.

Prep done. View from Pole Barn door.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday, June 24th...

Click any image for a larger view...

My first Sunflower

Valentines Day Follow-Up, Four Months Later.

On February 14th, 2011 I had the idea to dedicate all the plants I planted that day to my Olympia friends and classmates. I even went so far as to send them messages wishing them a happy Valentine's Day and telling them a few live plants had been planted in their name, which may or may not have led some of them to believe I was brain dead, but anyway, to follow up, all the plants did get planted in the bee yard I was making. This is what they looked like on February 14th and then what it looks like today. I threw in a picture of the site the way I found it last fall before the project.

Here are the seed trays I started on February 14th. I planted hyssop, calendula, lavender, anise hyssop, dill, echinacea purpurea, and chamomile. 

This is how some of the plants appear today along with sunflowers in the background. The lavender is not pictured here, it is slowly establishing itself as a border around the outside edge of this site.

The echinacea has not bloomed yet.

Here is a picture of how the site appeared when I found it in October of 2010, before the project began...

And now some nitty-gritty...

 This is Area Two. Originally the hives were going to move over to this area, along the fence, so I held off planting anything. When the bee hive plan changed I ended up a little behind for this area.
The green patch is white clover, the same kind I used for the green path (below). I want to put a small bench here. Along the log border on the right side I planted purple basil and some mountain mint in front of that. These plants seemed especially reluctant to grow during our unseasonable cold and wet spring so they look stunted right now. I am hoping now that the weather has warmed somewhat they will have a growth spurt. 

Here is a close-up of the clover patch. Even with that planting density the dreaded Morning Glory is staging a come back. I weeded it out but part of this maintenance project will be to keep up with this extremely competitive plant.

In contrast to the basil, the anise hyssop is thriving. I used a hose nozzle to give a sense of scale. Between the anise hyssop and the green path is a row of hyssop. They are doing well also. Behind the anise hyssop are a few dill plants I had left over. I trimmed the tops of these anise hyssop plants to delay their flowering for a little while and to make a bushier plant. 
PS. There appears to be a corn growing along the path. This, along with dozens of squash plants growing in Area One are the result of the sloppy mixing, on the part of the farm, of finished vermicompost with some that had barely started. Unbeknownst to me at the time I was spreading viable seeds everywhere. I decided to leave the corn for now to see what happens. I also left several of the squash in Area One, especially at the base of the sunflowers. Their root mass and broad leaves might help compete with the Morning Glory. I pulled out or trimmed the squash that was encroaching on the echinacea.

Gorgeous Poppy
Recap: Week One was mostly about weeding out the morning glory and watering the plants. I did not plant anything new other than five tiny mountain mint starts that were slowly dying in their seed trays in that horrible third greenhouse. They were being alternately cooked and frozen so I planted them even though they never grew more than half an inch.

Also, Area Three (aka: Area Bee) is the plot where the bee hive is. In the original collaboration with the bee group the hives were going to move and this was going to be an outdoor lounge with table and chairs for farm students, staff and faculty.
When the plan for the hives changed I decided to leave this area alone and see if the current P.S.A. class had any interest in doing something with it. After studying past project areas on the farm, I determined that creating a planned space and then leaving it for future classes with instructions to "please maintain this" had resulted in overgrown weed patches. Based on that I developed the philosophy that if you give people a chance to participate in the design, and do some hands-on work, they will be more willing to do upkeep because they have a stake in the project. 

I have talked one-on-one with several members of the current P.S.A. class and so far no one has expressed any interest in this area. I will give them until the end of week two of the summer quarter. If they are still preoccupied with other matters I will begin to work the area myself and by the end of week three if there is still no interest I will plant a cover crop in this area. I recently encountered a beautiful clover called "crimson red" which is one of the most beautiful clovers I have ever seen. 
Area One from behind

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In the final week of Spring Quarter

In the final few days of spring quarter. Many of the plants are developing nicely. Notice the progress of the chamomile bordering Area One. This has been one of the coolest, wettest springs in the recent memory of local farmers so many of the plants are slow to take off. On the bright side, even the ones that are slow have not died. The challenge for them now is to get into a robust growing stage before they are ravaged by insects. Today I checked the plants and many of them, such as the purple basil, are getting eaten by bugs. I did a weeding also since the Morning Glory is thriving, as predicted.
The calendula is blooming nicely. One lesson learned is that I got more height out of the chamomile and less height out of the calendula than expected. I thought I would get more of a drape effect than I did from the chamomile and the calendula was stunted by being in seed pots too long, waiting for the early spring rains to let up
Though you cannot see all of them in this picture, the plants in the garden are (starting in the corner of Area One and moving outward): Sunflowers along to fence, amaranth, dill, echinacea, calendula, chamomile. To the left of the door is a patch of phacelia. The path is white clover. To the left of  path is hyssop and anise hyssop. In front of the chamomile is purple basil with a few poppies in the corners. The bench circle is planted with white clover and surrounded by more claendula, anise hyssop and hyssop. Along the outer border is fennel and the border under the bamboo is planted with lavender.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A desperate "Hail Mary" pass.

I'm the first to admit that I jumped the gun with my Valentines Day planting. In my own defense, I was still on Seattle time. The last frost in Seattle comes a month earlier than Olympia (and the first one is a month later) so I could have put my first plants in the ground in a timely manner. As it is, several of my plants have outgrown their pots and have become seriously root-bound with two weeks to go before frost danger is past. So...in a sort of desperate attempt to save them, I put up this very ugly "greenhouse" in the hopes of getting  a few extra degrees. I have serious doubts if my plants will make it, but we'll know soon enough.