Jungle Remediation Part 1

The Jungle until yesterday…

Well, the jungle remediation has begun. We made a lot of progress in just two days. I can see the town from my house now. More importantly, the sun can see the veg patch.

The jungle is thinned…

We cut down all the sumac, vines and brush on the ledge, leaving the roots intact to hold the bank. Small brush was piled up against the stumps as a further protection against erosion. I thought about covering this with biodegradable landscape fabric and mulch. However, I haven’t quite decided if that will be easier to maintain, or if it would be just as easy to lop off whatever tries to grow from the roots. I have these fabulous loppers that can reach about 5’ and can cut through even dead wood like a hot knife in butter. So it may be easier to forego the fabric and just spend an hour or two a season cutting down the sprouts. Because sumac will grow through the fabric anyway, I’m thinking…

Beginning hügelkulture mounds & the existing veg beds

I’m going to be using all the trunks and thick branches to make hügelkulture mounds along the ledge. This will be where I grow my squashes, gourds, pumpkins and melons. Because I never just do one thing — permaculture, you know — this will also be a good space for sunflowers, amaranth and broom corn, with beans vining up the stalks. Maybe popcorn and blue corn if I feel like trying to dry that here. (It’s a challenge in damp New England autumns.) However, I am done growing sweet corn. Around here, there is plenty for me to eat from local farms; and judging by the pile of pints still in my freezer from last year, I don’t eat as much of it as I used to anyway. But more to the point, squirrels are just too thick here for me to even contemplate growing it myself. Likely, it would be a lot of depressing mess for me to clean up with nary an ear to eat. 

The Jungle is gone!

I planted the existing raised beds with onions (red, yellow, white, and sweet Spanish), carrots (nantes, bolero, a Renée’s mix of colorful carrots, and a red-core chantenay), and beets (chioggia, bull’s blood, red ace, and golden) in one 4’x8’ raised bed. The other bed has some pink-flowered strawberries growing in one end (leftovers from the former folks). I’m not sure if these produce fruit, but the flowers are lovely. So I left them alone again this year, but I planted cilantro in between them. The rest of the bed has radicchio — which I usually grow as an annual, though maybe I’ll see if this round will come back next year — and a small patch of shallots. So this is an intensive couple of beds! 

The rest of the level space will be filled out with more of these normal raised beds in a couple weeks. I have sweet potatoes on order and a couple sacks of seed potatoes in the basement. All the drying peas and beans will be going in here, as well as a bunch of odds and ends like the cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli that I just can’t resist growing — though I never manage to eat much of it. Garlic and parsnips will live here also. It will be good to have space for those again, because I do eat a lot of both. And parsnips, at least, are kind of stupid expensive in the markets, especially when you consider the ease and cheapness of producing them.

The mound of smell… that will grow chiles!

My other project for the weekend was to move the compost bins out from under my front porch seating area. This was one of those jobs in which you discover that there are multiple steps leading up to it. A pile of brush and yard waste needed to be moved to make room for the bins in the most logical part of the yard — close to the kitchen door but not close to any windows. Then the bins needed to be emptied. Added together, this meant I’d have a nice big pile of stuff that I could use to make a mound in the front yard for my eggplants, sweet peppers, chiles and fresh pod beans — those things that need extra water sometimes and lots of attention in harvest season. The bottom of the composting bin that was here when I moved in was the only part of this mess that was rotted down, and it has an inordinate amount of eggshell in it (again, leftovers from the former folks). So this is going to need a covering of topsoil and mulch. But it’s built and will have some time to compact before the nightshades need to go out at the end of the month. More importantly, the smell is already lessened; and when I put cedar mulch on the pile, it might even smell good. I can sit on the porch without nausea, in any case.

We finally may be seeing the switch to warm weather. A few more nights of flirting with freezing temperatures and then next week it’s supposed to be in the 80s (°F). Not sure I’m ready for that, but it will sure help warm this very cold soil. I haven’t stuck the candy thermometer in the ground, but when your hands are chapped and blue after rooting out the weeds, you know it’s too cold for most veg seed to germinate. I did manage to get the peas to sprout — after planting another round… oh well… can’t have too many peas, since they freeze nicely.

The sunny and dry days this past week have brought out the leaves and flowers though. The forsythia is still bright gold, but the first leaves are starting to unfurl. Those hyacinths and daffodils that the squirrels didn’t dig up — apparently, just because they like spreading chaos and destruction since they don’t eat these poisonous bulbs — are blooming. The maples are definitely painted green now, though not quite fully in leaf. My fruit trees and bushes all seem to have survived and are leafing out also. Even the blueberries — that the squirrels also dug up… multiple times… because they could…

So all in all, it’s a hopeful garden for Mother’s Day. Which is really good because my own mother is recovering from surgery, and I can’t be there to help. And Son#2 and his wife both have COVID down in Brooklyn where I can’t mother them with hot soup and fennel and slippery elm tea (for the sore throat…). So there are stresses… along with the general state of the world… which is roughly hell in a hand-basket… I mean, an entire dump in Delhi actually spontaneously ignited in the heat, completely blowing away the whole ‘Dumpster fire’ metaphor… and this isn’t considered news… I’ve rather given up at this point…


©Elizabeth Anker 2022