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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Annual Botanical Tour of the North

As promised, here's another blog post right on the heels of the adventures in gardening. This is a compilation of shots from our perch in the middle of nowhere and nearby beauty spots. 

Just to the west of our property, in the middle of some USFS land, is this pretty little lake. We have known it was there for several years since we can see it on the local topo maps and also on Google Earth when we stare at our roof  out in the middle of the wilderness in amazement that we actually pulled this whole thing off. But we had not found the lake til this spring! It's just under a mile away from our border.. our closest neighbor! 

That pile of sticks on the lower left of the pic is what you think it is... a beaver lodge. We didn't see any beavers but the lodge looked recently "renovated" with newly chewed branches so we suspect it is still occupied! 

This was in mid May, before bugs and before the trees and shrubs had leafed in. It is hard to get a sense of the pristine feel of this lake from a photo. I'd guess it was about 40 acres in size, big enough to support a pair of loons, and apparently the moose like it too, by the many footprints. It reminded us exactly of the BWCA and some of the small lakes that you pass through that appear entirely untouched. I was standing in/on what looked like a mat of either blueberry bushes or lowbush cranberries mixed in with tons of heathery-looking stuff and thick layers of complicated and very thick moss... will definitely check it out later this summer to see what fruit is growing there and what sort of shrubs and flowers I can find! Also - no pix, didn't turn out - the bog was full of pitcher plants... they are insect eating carnivorous plants that look like giant reddish orchids. Very cool!

Along the walk in the woods on our way back, I spotted a big patch of these... I'd never seen them, only read about them in guidebooks - these little delights are called "Dutchman's Breeches"! Aren't they cute? They're tiny - about 1/4" per bloom!


The woods were carpeted with these, called "spring beauty"... mmm... nice scent...


Then back in our "front yard" the pasque flowers were magnificent this year...




Our wild rose bloomed for a solid week and smelled so good! All the buds opened over the course of just one day, too...




The rose bush protects our well, in case anyone was planning to tap into it illegally!! 
The lupines started popping a few weeks ago and are still going strong...
Mmmm what luscious colors... 




These pink ones are my favorite...

It has been a rich and rainy spring, which makes for gorgeous greens in every imaginable shade... here are some ferns, wild sarsparilla and aster from the path to the labyrinth...


The Bluebeard lilies are blooming... their berries are navy blue
Canada Mayflower...

... and a carpet of bunchberries right at our river overlook on the ridge trail...
... just thick with them...


...so many were just perfectly formed... 
... I am looking forward to seeing the little bunches of red berries in a carpet this fall!

More garden, landscape, view and other "adventurous" photos coming up soon! 





Sunday, June 21, 2015

Delayed Gratification - Or - Adventures In Gardening

Well it has been a long time since my last posting - no good excuses other than life gets busy! I happened to glance at the "front page" of this blog the other day and was embarrassed to notice that from my photo, you dear reader might conclude that it is still winter up here in Cook County, northern MN. Ha, had you fooled! Winter is GONE!! All that snow melted MONTHS ago... well, at least WEEKS ago! Really, this winter actually did end in April rather than the end of May, and Mud Season was only marginally terrible. Had some pictures from Mud Season but I thought better of that. In the interest of time and color, I am going to skip all those dreary photos of frozen muck and bare branches and go right to SPRING- SUMMER!! 
Welcome to June, which, as the song says, is "Bustin' Out All Over" up here at Cascade Bluff. But that's just a teaser for the NEXT blog posting which will show you all sorts of lovely pix of flowers and green things... First, you must endure a photo essay of what these crazy women have been doing in the name of LONG TERM PLANNING... AKA "GARDENING." 

First, a confession - I ADORE asparagus. I could eat asparagus every day all year every year. And Val likes it too - not quite as ravenously as I do, but she also appreciates the tasty "spears" of spring. So, at long last, we decided to put in an asparagus bed at CB. 

There's just one problem with this story.

Those of you who are gardeners know that growing your own asparagus requires PATIENCE. If you seed it (which is cheap) you'll be waiting 2 or 3 years before you eat a thing. The other option is to plant "crowns" or first year roots (quite a bit more expensive). You get to eat it NEXT spring, if you are lucky. That's what we opted for - got them through mail order from Territorial Seed Company - and here's our Asparagus Adventure in pix!

Preparing the bed - this is our first "raised bed" built of white cedar logs from trees that came down during the construction of our cabin (or possibly from the road, we aren't sure) and we've already grown lots of stuff in this bed. Sadly, the cedar logs aren't lasting as long as we thought they would - they're already getting a bit rotten in their cores, so we are thinking about how to replace them and not lose the whole mound of nice juicy composted manure-soil... that's another story... 

We first dug out two long trenches...

Then, following the instructions that came with the asparagus roots, we put down a phosphorus source (bone meal) ...
...and added more manure....
...I love the smell of composted manure... really!
Here is our bundle of asparagus crowns... 
...and going in the ground on their little mounds of manure in the bottom of the trench...

Next step was to fill the trench in part-way...
...Add more compost... from our very own compost bins! Finally, this year we actually have some real compost! Yippee!!
A little sprinkling of that juicy stuff....
And the label, to remind me - as if I'd need reminding - that this bed has the "Jersey Supreme" asparagus crowns!

Alas, not more than a week went by before the local creatures dug up a root or two and gnawed away on them...We suspect woodchucks... but then again we always suspect woodchucks! Suddenly, all our investment, hard work and Future Asparagus Dreams were in jeopardy. So, what would any self-respecting Delayed Gratification Gardeners do next? 

Build an AsparagHus, of course!!

We still have had what looked like a fair supply of leftover lumber from various construction projects, including the cabin, the sauna, the workshop, the garage, etc... So we thought of course we'll have plenty of wood to build an enclosure around this raised bed. We measured (we measured twice - or so we thought) and dug through the stacks of leftover 2x4s and 2x6s and posts and hardware cloth and chicken wire and screws... 
and made Wall #1 up in the workshop (wanting to avoid working in the garden itself, which is a haven for black flies). Here it is... isn't it beautiful? 
Beautiful, yes. The correct size, alas, NO. So after measuring TWICE MORE and going to the lumber yard in Grand Marais... and going again... and going again... and going to the other lumber yard, the one in Lutsen... And designing, redesigning, adapting, cursing, sweating, nudging, measuring, sawing, squaring, fastening, stapling over and over again... 

Here is the gate in progress... way harder that you'd think, to design and build a garden gate that actually functions...
The Modular Design in progress...

Finally, we are ready to start putting the thing up in place!
The first wall is up...
Note that the asparagus sprouts are semi protected at this point by fencing lying over the top of the bed... 
Wall #2 is up! Hell, look at that, the thing is actually standing!!
Ta Da! Almost done! 
One of the finishing touches... I may have to replace this with a sign that has the "proper" spelling of "AsparagHus"... 
And here it is! Isn't this gorgeous!! All it needs is some more chicken wire along the bottom, where the mostly straight wood frame meets the mostly lumpy, rocky ground... and a little sanding/planing of that gate, which does actually open and close, though it could do so more smoothly with some finishing touches. 
All that, for some asparagus that we won't actually be able to eat until sometime next year... if we are lucky! Crossing our fingers til June of 2016... 

Now to the other garden projects of the Spring-Summer of 2015... We of course have more than one raised bed. Consider this part two of a randomized controlled trial... A completely different form of garden fence-protection, this one made of PVC pipe! 

Pretty simple, cool idea, found, of course, using Dr. Google. 
You get a load of 1" PVC pipe, locally only available in 10 ft lengths... 
...and a 1-1/4" inch pipe cut into small sections, for holders...

...Build a frame, of course, made to measure for the inside of the 2nd cedar log raised bed... 
...and easy-peasy, you strap the 1-1/4" pipe sections on the wood frame...
...just like this...
... and plunk in 5 foot sections from the 1" PVC pipes cut in half... Voila! 
Oh that it were so easy after all...
Transport mechanism...
One photo taken almost at the end of the project... Not showing you the gory details of discovering that... hmm, if you have the pipe on the outside of the frame, it no longer fits inside the friggin' cedar logs... grrr... and the "re-engineering on the spot decision"  - do I cut the frame down or move the pipes to the inside? - and obviously, I decided to flip the long boards over, move the pipes to the inside and reposition the pipe clamps on the short sides "in the field"... Looks pretty good so far... 
...And just one photo depicting the end result of the PVC frame wrapped in chicken wire - looks great, doesn't it? I decided to leave out the clouds of black flies and "no see 'ums" that were eating me alive as I put that chicken wire on... and I choose to gloss over the fact that this enclosure as of yet has no gate or way to easily access the plants... we will get to that later, folks! At least the rabbits and woodchucks can't get to that crop of spinach, lettuce and the sprouting beans... crossing our fingers, again, but hope to be harvesting much sooner than next year!
Okay, just when you are thinking, these nutty women have got to be done with all their projects... Oh no! We've got more ideas!

Inspired by near neighbors and friends, Stan and Pat, who used elevated raised beds for their veggie garden last year, we found this magazine article....

...got some lumber and started cutting! Oops, we measured first!
All the nice red cedar boards ready to go... smells nice...


Assembly in progress...
Step one...
...two...
...steps three, four, five and six! 
Almost finished....
Here they are, our new elevated raised garden beds, in place near the patio...
...and planted with tomatoes, herbs, lettuce, kale and beans! 

One final "teaser" for another blog posting yet to come - what is very petite, very tart, tolerates as far north as zone 2 (wow, that's far north!) and likes the same soil as blueberries... 

...answers and more photos coming soon!