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We have clouds and cooler temperatures. Looks like the heat wave has broken.

It’s amazing how different the midsummer days feel here in Oregon, at the same latitude as southern Maine. The sun takes a whole different path through the sky, both lower and longer. It rises in the northeast and sets in the northwest. Nights are short and days are long.

Of course in the winter it will be the opposite, with just a modest slice of daylight, by comparison to the Bay Area.

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We are staying in a cozy house with a productive back yard featuring raised beds and two happy hens named Pepper and Blondie. They lay big, beautiful eggs, each one producing almost one every day. We are greatly enjoying their output, and making friends with them too.

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The stalwart traveling kitty, Stella, looks on from the window.

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It is wonderful to see clouds in the sky again.

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Here is an update on my journey to a new life. We are temporarily renting a cute little house in south Eugene while we finalize the purchase of a property just north of Corvallis.

Who is “we”? It’s me, plus my sweet kitty Stella, plus two close and dear human friends, Carol and Kent, and their ever-so loving golden doodle dog, Aspen. Without any one of the three humans, this whole adventure would be impossible. My gratitude is profound!

We left in a three-vehicle caravan from Menlo Park very early on June 21, solstice day. When the solstice happened at 9:38 AM we were already well up the Sacramento valley, surrounded by endless fields of rice, corn, sunflowers, and grass.

By midday we were in the mountains, and several hours later we passed a certain landmark, a picture of which everyone seems to have been asking for. So here it is, proud and tall, viewed across the tarmac of the airport at Weed, CA:

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Since we were intent on driving the whole distance from Menlo Park to Eugene in one day, there was not time for many pictures, but I could not escape the obligatory Shasta snap!

Since arriving in Eugene we have visited Corvallis twice, each time learning more about the town. We have been back to our favorite property, where we soaked up the quiet and enjoyed its beauty. Unfortunately, I can’t share any pictures just yet because it is private property not visible from the public road. If / when we do settle there I’ll publish many, many pictures.

Oregon is full of beauty, and Eugene is no exception. Our little rental is in a sweet neighborhood of unique homes, and there are plenty of lovely gardens. Here I share a few from a four-block walk.

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This one (above) is right across the street. Mostly unwatered, and only slightly pruned, it is a riot of lushness.

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There are green lawns here, even in the middle of the current heat wave. This one features some white clover.

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An untended driveway strip must have looked amazing a month ago, before the summer dry spell.

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A very deep nature-ish garden graces a rounded corner lot.

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A back path flanked by lush semi-wild vegetation.

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At the side of the path, comfrey blooms.

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A glorious and edible day lily.

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They do know how to grow onions up here.

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Backed by a rough stone wall, a not-recently-mowed lawn has turned into a happy meadow with bindweed, Queen Anne’s lace, and a dandelion-like composite flower.

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In Eugene, you can water your garden and people don’t look at you funny. It is hot and dry right now, but the rivers and creeks are still running. I am so glad to be here.

Stay tuned for more updates as this adventure continues!

150511-0626

Dear friends,

The time has come for a big change!

If you are close to me you know that the continuing and deepening California drought has taken a big bite out of my work as a nature gardening consultant. Here in the Bay Area the climate has shifted, and I’m not just talking about the weather. People are pulling back on all kinds of gardening, letting their lawns turn brown and planting slow-growing xeriscapes with vast expanses of dry mulch.

No matter the cause, be it global warming or simply long-term climate cycles, the Bay Area’s climate is passing into a semi-arid phase. Even if we get a big fat El Niño this winter the chances are the drought will resume soon after.

As beautiful as the dry, brown hillsides may be, I am a creature of the rain.

That is why I am moving to Corvallis, Oregon. I will be leaving the Bay Area on June 20, 2015.

Creating deep nature gardens in the Bay Area has been a wonderful, fun, educational project. Now I am moving on, to a place where it rains in every month of the year (usually!) and sometimes in the winter there is snow.

To Bay Area clients, my deepest thanks for the opportunities to work in your beautiful gardens.

To future new clients in Corvallis, I look forward to meeting you!

Many good wishes to all garden lovers!

Nick Turner

 

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While preparing a client’s new garden last summer I came across a patch of dormant bulbs in a shady, mossy place under a bush. I tossed some of the topsoil and a few bulbs into a handy plastic bag and brought it home.

The soil and bulbs went into a round pot. There was not enough soil to fill it all the way, but I didn’t want to change the soil chemistry or add any new species to the mix so it was left partly filled. I put the new eco-pack in a partly shaded corner behind some other plants and forgot about it for several months.

As you can see, the bulbs sprouted up! How lovely. But what are they? I don’t know yet, we’ll have to wait until they bloom. What kind of bulbs do you think they are? Tell us your guess in the comments.

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The soil from that mossy place also contained thousands of moss fragments, which also sprouted up in the moist, shaded, forgotten pot. This is some of the lushest, most crisply beautiful moss in any of the eco-packs. Look how it glistens in the sun!

Although this pot was moved temporarily to a sunny location for these pictures, it has now been returned to its semi-shady home, similar to the location where it was originally found under the bush.

When the bulbs bloom, which seems likely this spring, I’ll publish an update. Watch for it in a few months!

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There she is! I call her the compost beast. She lives on a tarpaulin on the upstairs deck. How beautiful she is, basking in the morning sun.

Let’s open it up and see more of her.

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The right end of the beast is the input end, AKA her “mouth.” This is where the new “compost food” (kitchen scraps, mostly) goes in. The left end is the output end, AKA her (well, you can figure it out).

150222-1050At right is a close-up of part of the input end. There are moldy fruits, egg shells, various other food debris, and you might also notice some bits of shredded paper.

A few chicken bones are allowed into the stream to add more phosphorus and calcium as they slowly break down. There are also a few twigs and stems of garden cuttings, but not the ones that have lots of viable seeds.

In the past I used to take the time to carefully break up the compost food into bite-size chunks, as a way of “pre-chewing” it so the beast could digest it better. But nowadays I don’t bother to pre-chew her food, because she does a very good job of it as the food decays inside of her.

Time to get to work!

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Before I can add any new compost food I need to do a bit of “grooming” using a soft-tined garden rake. With this type of composting one must act as a sorting agent, bringing the largest bits of undecomposed material back to the input end from the output end. They get re-cycled through the beast until they either break down or are removed during an operation I call “slimming down” that will be described in another post.

To accomplish this debris-sorting the rear end is groomed up toward the front end, bringing those larger bits back for re-digestion. Even though this grooming is only done to the surface layers, over time it is a very effective way to keep the beast sorted from front to back.

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Above is today’s “meal.” You can see citrus peels (often considered too acid for making good compost, but the beast can handle them). There are also avocado peels, egg shells, and a coffee filter (the grounds are there too!) and underneath are some rotting eggplant parts and much more.

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Above: A shovel has been used to open out the input end, creating a flattish space where new food can be added. But we are not ready to do that yet.

150222-1117The kitchen scraps alone would not make good compost. They are too dense and wet, and they are chemically unbalanced. First, I have to add some absorbent, high-carbon content bulk.

That’s easy enough. Like most suburban households, we generate a fair amount of scrap newsprint. This excellent material is sliced into strips with an old-fashioned paper cutter and deposited into the beast’s open mouth.

However, we don’t just use any old paper. Fortunately, the right kind is readily available for free. It’s mostly made of local free newspapers, almost all of which (these days) use good paper and non-toxic, soy-based inks. That’s what we want.

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I’m almost done! The compost food is deposited on top of the shredded paper, and mixed around a bit with the shovel. Any really large chunks are chopped into a few smaller pieces.

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Above: The beast’s mouth is re-closed by moving debris from around the edges back up on top of the new food. Now she is ready to digest her meal. Notice how she is all humped up around the new stuff. That hump will drop down over the next day or two, as the kitchen scraps rapidly decompose.

Below: Back in her tarpaulin robe, the compost beast lies in the warm sun, peacefully digesting her new meal.

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This peat-pot filled to almost overflowing with a grassy looking plant was received from a friend at a recent plant swap. At first I had no idea what it was. There are tons of grassy-leaved plants! But as you can see above, it has recently put out a bunch of drooping flower clusters. Now we can identify it! Let’s have a closer look.

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Wow! Amazing flowers with red-pink bracts above and pendulous drooping individual blooms. Each of these has green petals edged in bright blue with a red base, terminated by long stamens with abundant yellow pollen.

What kind of plant is this? From examination of the leaves and the bases of the leaf clusters, and from the general shape of the flowers, it seemed like some type of bromeliad.

Some research revealed that this is (probably!) Billbergia nutans, AKA “queen’s tears,” a true bromeliad related to pineapples, which grows as an epiphyte (attached to trees above the ground) in tropical areas of the new world.

How delightful to have this easy-to-grow new species in the collection! Now it’s time to divide this big old plant into lots of smaller ones… and anyone in the Bay Area is invited to come on by and get a starter sucker from this plant.

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Here is a smallish eco-pack, whose main feature is a beautiful little Solanum “potato vine” (maybe S. seaforthianum or S. jasminoides) climbing up a post in the middle. This plant was deliberately placed here, sprouting from a bulb harvested from a client’s garden in San Jose, CA. I’m going to up-pot it into the round black pot.

150222-1213Right: The vine is not the only plant in the eco-pack. It also contains a tiny little stinging nettle deep in one corner. There are also a few small seedlings of scarlet pimpernel and Kenilworth ivy plus a few other seedlings that are still too small to identify.

When up-potting an eco-pack (or planting it in the ground) it is important to do our best to preserve as many of the plants as possible. Let’s see if we can keep the little nettle and the other seedlings.

Placing a few fingers directly on the soil (between the plant stems!) I invert the pot and squeeze it gently with my left hand. After a few squeezes the whole thing slips easily out.

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Above: The pack has been very carefully removed from its pot and the destination pot has a bit of good planting mix in the bottom. This is the perfect time to up-pot this eco-pack because the roots have grown enough to hold the soil together but not so much that they are sucking the last bits of nutrients out. We want to see the roots around the outside, but we also want to see a good amount of soil.

150222-1227Right: The pack and its rectangular chunk of soil rests on the planting mix in the bottom of the new pot. I do not “rough up” the root ball in any way – in fact I am very careful to preserve every bit of its structure. There are several kinds of plants here and their roots are deeply entwined. Let’s not damage them!

With one hand I scoop a bit of new planting mix and very gently pour it down into the open slots along the edges of the root clump, all around the outside. I am very careful not to pour any planting mix onto the existing soil surface.

Still very gently, I use two or three fingers to push down the new planting mix, adding more as needed until there is a new level surface outside of the plants that were already in the eco-pack.

A gentle shake and bump-bump of the pot settles the new mix into place. The results are below. Can you see the tiny stinging nettle, still happy at what used to be the corner of the old pot?

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One more thing. Any time a plant’s roots are disturbed, and especially if they are in contact with new, dry soil, it is important to give a serious watering. With the hand spray set on “shower” mode I give it a good deep watering, until it drips out the bottom.

That’s it! Now this little vine and its community will have some room to grow bigger!

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