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Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.

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gardening

Early one morning just as the sun was rising – in the Secret Garden

No foxgloves…no love

Come with me on a tour of my secret garden this morning. Built by my Handyman husband, today, this morning in June, it is at it’s peak.

The Hobbit Gate
I have a thing for foxgloves
Lupin love
June roses
Lavender
Pond visitor
Tree fort view

A bit of morning magic

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Columbines after the rain

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Secret garden entrance

 

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Potager

 

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Raspberry farm

 

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Statue is called #4 with tree fort in the background

 

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Raspberries…soon

 

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Chives

 

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In an English Country Garden – and in mine

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Surveying my Naramata garden

England’s Amberley Castle wildlife…

I love English country gardens and my own. Our English relatives John and Ann, indulging me in my passion, always plan a visit to extraordinary gardens when we come and spending time in their own lovely garden with its roses and pond is an enormous pleasure. I bring home inspiration, seeds, garden ornaments, pieces of flint and photos. Here are some of my favourites and how we’ve worked at Canadianizing them.

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Amberley Castle tree fort

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Naramata tree fort…called The Skyroom

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Chartwell House

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Former Calgary garden

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My house…The Handyman built this round gate

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Kent Castle falconry exhibit

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Hunting free in my garden

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Flower border I wish to copy

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Naramata garden in the morning

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English garden path

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Naramata garden path

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English roses

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Naramata rose

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Admitting defeat… this just ain’t going to happen in Naramata

Secrets and lies — The Secret Garden this morning

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A secret is a secret

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Just a glance inside a living stained glass window

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Clematis spilling out another…

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The door is open…

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6 a.m. sun

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No Foxglove, No Love

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Photo light in the secret garden this morning on my favourite plant of all time.

What does it say about me that my favourite garden plant is deadly? Digitalis, also called Dead Mans Bells, Bloody Fingers and Witches Gloves is toxic but beautiful. A few years ago a US woman poisoned her husband by adding foxglove leaves to his salad. He became violently ill but survived. I guess the guy wasn’t handy.

IMG_9530I prefer to call by them by their more endearing name, Foxglove. Also called Virgin’s Glove, Fairy Caps, Folk’s Glove and Fairy Thimbles, this cottage garden flower is a key reason my secret garden looks magical this morning. I grew all the foxgloves in my collection from seeds in the greenhouse…many of them ordered from Plants of Distinction in England. Some of my favourites are Candy Mountain Peach (see, not a sinister name at all)…the bells face upwards in this one, Camelot cream with its densely clothed stems of Guernsey cream bells, Elsie Kelsey, with its beautiful snow white bells and a raspberry jam lip and obscura with a nodding red-veined yellow flower from Spain. Heywoodii is of the palest of pinks with heavy freckles with densely packed bells on a dwarf plant. Mertonenisis is also a very fine hybrid reproducing truly from seed with its crushed strawberry bells…I could go on.

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I like the way they look mixed in with lupins.

They are virtually maintenance free and hardy. It took some patience as most are biennial. I had to nurture my seedlings, harden them off, plant them and wait another whole year to see their bells. They will grow in a number of soil types as long as there is good drainage. Most are hardy to zone 4.

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Once your foxgloves are blooming let them for for as long as you can. Your goal is to allow the plant to go to seed and for the seed to dry so it can be scattered around the garden. Yes please. I love the unkempt look of the garden with self-seeders.

IMG_9523Bees love foxgloves and their blooms are entirely dependent of the visits of this insect. The projecting lower lip of the corolla forms an alighting platform for the bee and as he pushes his way up the bell, to get at the honey which lies in a ring around the seed vessel at the top of the flower, he rubs on the pollen. A single foxglove can provide from one to two million seeds. This particular plant is a whopper with beautiful markings towering above my head.  They love the dappled shade of my secret garden although they will tolerate full sun.

IMG_9497I love they way their dramatic spikes of tubular flowers with speckled throats add elegance and height to my garden.

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They look nice among my climbing rose.

Foxgloves are pretty darned handy. They are used to produce the important heart drugs digitoxin, digitalin, digitonin and digitalenin which are extracted from the leaves. The drug increases the activity of all forms of muscle tissue, but more especially that of the heart and arterioles, the all-important property of the drug being its action on the circulation.

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Banishing blueberry eating birds to make blueberry tarts

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Blueberry tart wouldn’t be possible without good bird netting.

The birds know a good thing when they see it. The very minute blueberries are ripe and ready to eat they are on it. If you want to find your thrill on blueberry hill you need some pre-planning. Our berries in our first producing patch are just blueing up nicely so it’s time for The Handyman to work his magic.

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The Handyman used 3/4″ PVC with some t-joints and PVC glue to make the structure, spending about $50 on materials. He measured the width of the blueberry bed and the height. Our box was 8 feet wide and he used two 10-foot sections of PVC to give us a 7-foot clearance at the apex of the hoop. He says you could also add some rebar inside the PVC to make the structure sturdier which he plans to do in the future when we enclose the much larger commercial patch for the berry farm. If you need to make the structure more freestanding, ie. you don’t have a wooden box as your bed to staple the PVC too, you will need to insert a section of rebar into the ends of the PVC to allow you to dig the PVC into the ground. The bird netting was a lucky drive-by find found at the side of the road with a “free” sign on it. Of course, you can purchase netting…

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We heaped lovely soil with lots of peat moss into this raised box and I top with a mulch of pine needles to keep these acid-loving berries happy.

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Here is a side view…we have left one end up so the bees can finish up their last bit of pollination for us. We will secure this opening when the berries are ripe and weigh down the bottom with a few rocks we can remove to lift the flap when harvesting.

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Here is a look at the roof structure. The nets are secured with zip ties.

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Blueberries are safe as houses from the birds but easily accessible for picking.

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Jacquy Pfieiffer’s blueberry tart is a pretty good pay-back for The Handyman’s work.

Blueberry Tart

Day one:

Sweet Dough (makes enough for two 9-inch crusts)

  • 168 grams or 6 ounces of unsalted butter
  • 1.4 grams or 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 112 grams or 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 39 grams or 1/3 cup of almond flour
  • 7 grams or 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 extra large egg plus 1 to 2 teaspoons
  • 315 grams or 2 7/8 cup sifted cake flour

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment cream the butter and sea salt on medium speed for about 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl and add the confectioners’ sugar and combine with the butter at low speed. Scrape down the bowl and then add almond flour and vanilla and combine at low speed. Add the eggs, one at a time and about a quarter of the cake flour and beat on low until just incorporated. Stop the machine and scrape down the bowl. Gradually add the remaining flour and mix just until the dough comes together. Don’t over mix. Press the dough into a 1/2″ thick rectangle block, wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight or for at least two to three hours.

You could also make the streusel (see below) on day one and or the blueberry filling and refrigerate until ready to assemble and bake.

Day two:

After it has chilled, remove the dough from the refrigerator, cut it into two equal portions and roll one out in a 1/4 ” thick circle and line a 9-inch tart pan, ring, or heart.

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Using a fork, perforate the bottom of the shell making rows of little holes. Place in the refrigerator uncovered for at least an hour. (Freeze the second portion of dough for a future use). Pre-bake the shell in a 325F oven. To do this, line the shell with parchment and add rice, dried beans or pie weights. Bake with this “faux” filling for 15 minutes and then remove the parchment and rice, beans or weights and return the tart shell to the oven for another 5 to 15 minutes until it is golden brown and evenly coloured. Brush with an egg wash (1 beaten egg with 1 tablespoon of water) and return to the oven for five more minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before filling.

Blueberry filling

  • 280 grams or 2 1/4 cups blueberries. If using frozen, choose wild blueberries
  • 51.5 grams or 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 grams or 1 1/4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 6 grams or 1 1/4 teaspoons water
  • 2.5 grams or 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 a vanilla bean
  • 36 grams or 2 yolks plus 1 teaspoon egg yolks
  • 56 grams or 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 56 grams or 1/4 cup heavy cream

 

In a medium saucepan, combine the blueberries and 1 teaspoon of the sugar and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and boil for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon juice, water and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Gradually stir the mixture into the berries and simmer 1 minute until thickened. If the mixture is too watery, dissolve another 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch into a tablespoon of juice and stir in. Simmer until thickened and then remove from heat.

Using a knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into a medium bowl. Add the egg yolk and remaining sugar and beat together with a whisk. Add the milk and cream and beat together until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the blueberries.

Streusel

  • 60 grams or 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 88 grams or 1/3 cup turbinado sugar
  • 70 grams or 1/2 cup of cake flour
  • 70 grams or 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 1 gram or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 13 grams or 1 tablespoon Kirschwasser

(This will make more than you need. You can freeze the leftovers and use to make fruit crumbles or top muffins.)

Preheat oven to 325 F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Cut the butter into cubes and place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a mixer and mix on medium for about 2 minutes until crumbly.

Spread on the parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden brown and crisp. Allow to cool.

Assembly

Sprinkle 17 grams or 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of the streusel in an even layer on the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell. Spread the blueberries on top. Place on a sheet pan and bake 30 to 40 minutes until just set. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

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Sorry birds

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead: So…more “secret” garden

I took my camera out for “a few minutes” in the early morning today for a look-around the secret garden and an hour later had to be dragged away. Here’s a Cole’s Notes look at what held me captivate because sometimes, the biggest secrets you can only tell a stranger.

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Unusual red clematis, Rebecca, launched at the Chelsea Flower show in England. It reads a bit pink in this photo with the sun shining through but is very, very red. The shot below better flaunts its redness.

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Just opening, Rebecca is the newest variety from Raymond Evison and is named after his eldest daughter. It can be grown in any location and holds it colour well in full sun. It can also be grown in a container.

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One more clematis…I’ve forgotten the variety of this purple gem.

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Mirror, mirror on the wall…

“The best secrets are the most twisted.” Sara Shepard.

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My aquilegia are putting on one final show. It seems strange that two birds as different as the eagle (in Latin, aquila) and the dove (columbus) should both give their name to the same flower — aquilegia or columbine. It is an easy perennial to start from seed and all of mine came from seeds from England germinated in my greenhouse. I’m still collecting.

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I love the ruffles.

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Aquilegias love the dappled shade in the secret garden and are perfect in its cottage garden setting.

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The bees seem to like them too.

“Photography is all about secrets. The secrets we all have and will never tell.” Kim Edwards, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.

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The fine spray of The Handyman’s irrigation also makes it a lovely place to be in the mornings.

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Hard to believe this allium is part of the onion and garlic family.

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Quick digression to my potager, that I passed by on the way to the secret garden…These chives are related to the allium as well.

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…and look lovely in a salad.

“Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast.” Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden.

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“But some secrets are too delicious not to share.” Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay.

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Maybe flowers are overrated.

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She knows some secrets.

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Frogs have taken up residence.

“That, my dear, is what makes a character interesting, their secrets.” Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden.

IMG_8821“Secrets are like plants. They can stay buried deep in the earth for a long time, but eventually they’ll send up shoots and give themselves away.” Judy Reene Singer, Still Life with Elephant.

Her heart was a secret garden and the walls were very high

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“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.” Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Just like Mary in her Secret Garden, I like the name and the still more the feeling that when its walls shut me in no one knows where I am. The Handyman built my walls five years ago and I’ve been planting and revising ever since. This sheltered spot is maturing nicely and is being discovered by others who see the merit of a trickling brook, pond and shelter from the wind. It’s becoming a mini bird, bee and frog sanctuary.  A family of racoons and another of skunks also make frequent visits to the pond, mostly at night luckily.

Here are a few of the plants blooming today:

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Highly-scented iris, unknown variety

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Gentiana acaulis

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Aquilegia which I grow from seed in my greenhouse, I no longer can call them Columbines…too sad, reminds me of the poor school kids

 

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Aquilegia viridiflora ‘Chocolate Soldier’, a rare collector’s item with seeds from Thompson & Morgan. It’s very fragrant.

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Leopard’s Bane, the earliest-blooming of the daisies brings some colour to my pond.

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Two new pink azaleas are planted outside the secret garden round gate. They will be more spectacular next year. 

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This little guy was was one of the first things we planted. The next photo is what it looks like today.

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Shishigashira Japanese Maple has heavily curved green leaves giving an interesting texture to this compact, shrubby tree. It is spectacular in fall and its highly sculptural form will only improve with age. It will slowly reach about 15 feet tall.

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Close-up of the Lion’s Head leaves

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Another ideal small tree, Japanese stewartia, frames the lady’s head. It gives you lovely peeling bark all season, hot fall colour and it blooms with white June-into-July flowers. It’s a distant relative of the tea family.

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Another “before and after”…here is The Handyman installing the edging that will eventually form the garden paths.

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Here is the same path lined with orange-scented thyme which will soon be in bloom. I grew all these thyme from seed in the greenhouse. A lot of wins here. It’s extremely fragrant with a delicious scent of balsam and oranges. The flowers are long-lasting and very pretty. It’s drought tolerant and easy to care for. On top of that it is one of the most useful herbs for the kitchen. I ordered my seeds from seedaholic.

Like any good secret, my garden is best revealed in instalments. I’ll post more when new blooms arrive.

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden.

The most expensive raspberries in the world: Cane planting primer

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To produce these…

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…you need some great detergent

With every shovel of dirt came rocks and my future pints of raspberries went up another 10 cents. “That will be $50 please…” My revelation for the week was a reminder of just how hard farming is and how much it should really be worth.

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It’s not that big a box right. How hard will this be? All planted in an hour right? It turned out to be 10 hours with two more days to add additional compost and mulch. The box contains 100 Prelude raspberry  canes from an Ontario grower. In behind, in the early morning rays, are some of our blueberry bushes in raised beds.

In a backwards fashion we are adding to our symphony with a second 100 raspberry canes for our Carpe Diem berry farm. Last year we planted Encore raspberries, this year Prelude. Our Encores are doing great and establishing well. We will get a medium-sized harvest this year and a much bigger one next year as they mature.

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The berries on the Encore raspberries planted last year are forming up nicely.

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Taken from the tree fort balcony, here is a look at part of last year’s planting.

We chose Prelude and Encore raspberries to offer our customers early and late season berries while our competitors have the more commonly harvested supply. Prelude and Encore were developed by Cornell University at the New York State Experiment Station in Geneva, New York. Prelude matures a high percentage of its fruit in late June and early July while Encore is harvested from late July to early August. Like picking paint colours, I have to admit I was also swayed by the musical names.

Raspberry cane planting primer

  • Site selection is key. Pick a sunny and sheltered location with well-drained soil with no chance of waterlogging or flooding, as on a slope or in raised rows. Our location is on gentle slope. Raspberries don’t like wet feet but they also have a shallow root system so must not be allowed to dry out either.
  • Prepare your planting holes about two feet apart in rows about six feet apart.

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75 of our 100 will be planted here. Each of those 75 holes were dug by The Handyman with a pick-axe and shovel. Because we are a small operation we aren’t too mechanized.

  •  Plant certified disease-free stock in early spring. Ours came from Strawberry Thyme Farm in Ontario and was sent to us by refrigerated courier. I tried to find a British Columbia source that could beat their price but was unable to. Prelude came early. Last year Strawberry Thyme had let us know that they were shipping the Encores but being Prelude I guess they had to come before we were ready. We had hoped to have the posts, cross bracing, wires and drip irrigation installed but…they will have to follow as the plants must go in the ground as soon as possible after they arrive as their dormancy will break and the roots could dry out.

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I popped the canes into a bucket of water while I worked.

 

 

  • Add a shovel-full of compost to the planting hole and water in well.

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Compost is king in our nutrient-poor sandy soil. I will top-dress the planting every spring as well.

 

  • Plant the crowns at the same depth as in the nursery.
  • Add more compost mixed in with the soil you have dug out of the hole and water in very well.

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The Handyman supplies me with lots of mulch from his chipper.

  • Add a layer of mulch to keep the weeds at bay and to help conserve moisture. I watered again once the mulch was in place.
  • In a week or so I will add some Alaska Fish Fertilizer and will continue hand-watering until the canes are well established and showing signs of life or The Handyman has had time to install all the posts, wires and drip irrigation. This should wait until he runs his marathon next week as post pounding does not equal taper.

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Rocks and more rocks…how much can we charge for a pint?

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View of the tree fort with the last year’s Encore planting and this year’s Prelude

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I will plant a drought-tolerant grass seed in between the rows to help keep the canes in their rows. The lawnmower will trim off the suckers in the grassy strips.

Prelude produces attractive, high quality, firm fruit that will taste amazing. I can’t wait although now that all the canes are in I’m starting to think about the hours of picking ahead and price of those pints.

IMG_0473.JPGNext up is the addition of 50 more blueberry bushes and a netting structure to protect the blueberries from the birds.

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