I have a half acre garden!

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In just a week, Jim and Will have been able to clear about a half-acre garden spot on the lower site, mow and clean up the edges of the 0.5 mile northern road through the property, and clear the back yard of the future home site from the back of the house spot to the fence about 50 feet away.  That’s a lot of blackberry clearing in just a few days!  “Tractors rock!,” says Jim.  🙂

Now I just have to figure out how best to use a half acre garden area!

Blackberry leaf tea

In our ongoing quest to figure out what to do with acres and acres and acres (and acres) of blackberries, I came across a mention of making blackberry leaf “tea” with the leaves.  We’ve used our raspberry leaves for tea for a few years now and love it, so I decided to give it a try.  After doing a bit more research, however, it seems that the blackberry leaves are much improved in flavor if they are “fermented” first.  Which basically means you treat them like real tea leaves and bruise them, then allow them to oxidize for a while to develop a darker color and richer flavor.  I made a small batch the last time we were up at the property, and everyone loved it, so I decided to make more.  There are several sites with instructions for doing this online, but I haven’t seen many how-to articles with pictures of the process, so as I was making this last batch I took photos from start to finish.

Step 1:  Pick the blackberry leaves.  These are from the notoriously invasive Himalayan Blackberry, which means they are abundant, large and full of nasty hooked thorns.  Wear gloves and use snips.  And expect to get snagged now and then anyway.

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Step 2:  Let the fresh leaves dry and wilt slightly.  You don’t want them too wet, or they will mold and rot instead of oxidize.  I don’t have a picture for this step because, to be honest, the pile of leaves looks pretty much like they do above, except a bit drier and slightly more limp.

Step 3:  Bruise the leaves.  I did this by laying them out in small batches and rolling a small wooden rolling pin over them until they were slightly crushed all over.  This releases the leaf juices and exposes them to the air.  Soon after you have done this, you should smell an almost perfume-y smell, with a hint of fresh rose scent.  (I don’t have a picture of this step, either, but will probably edit this post to add one when I process the next batch.)

Step 4:  Put the leaves back into a perforated bag or wrap in a damp cloth and let them sit for two or three days in a warm(ish) spot out of the sun.  I used a plastic bag that was not tied shut, and checked the leaves several times a day, turning and mixing them to expose them to the air more and to keep them from sticking together and molding. I have read of others using a thin cotton cloth, pillow case or bag for the task.  Just make sure they don’t dry out too quickly, or the oxidation will stop before it has reached the right level of browning.  Here is an example what the leaves should look like once they have been fermented.

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And here is a close-up of one of the fermented leaves.  You can see where the leaf cells have been broken and the leaf juices exposed to the air.

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Here is a picture with fresh leaves next to the fermented so you can better see the contrast.

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Step 5:  Put the fermented leaves into a dehydrator, and, using the middle settings, dry them until they are quite crisp.  You can crush the leaves later and remove prickly stems, or just leave them.  I tend to like to remove the thorny stem midribs and petioles, but sometimes when I don’t have time I just leave them.

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That’s all there is to it! Fermented blackberry leaf tea is less “herbal” tasting and has a pleasantly mild fruity flavor that you just don’t get with the green leaves before oxidation.  It is good alone and also with other herbs, such as mint.

 

A small plant nursery will apparently be moving with us

One of the pre-moving tasks I set for myself this summer was to take starts and cuttings from some of our most loved plants in our gardens here, so that we can start our new gardens over again in Washington without having to pay a fortune to do so.  So, over the past three weeks, the empty planter pile has been shrinking, and the rows of thriving potted garden starts is growing.  It is beginning to look like a small nursery is living on our back porch.

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I took cuttings of our lovely seedless blue grape vine, which we have really enjoyed over the years here.  It produces sweet dark blue dessert grapes that taste a little like blueberries when fully ripe and make the tastiest raisins as well.  It is cold hardy, productive (40-50 lbs from one vine!) and quite vigorous.  We would love to have several of them at the new place, so I started 14 softwood cuttings last week.  If we get 4-6 vines from this batch of cuttings, I will be thrilled.  If we get more, we may have to give a few away, because just one will completely fill up a large trellis!   This is the “mother vine.”  The trellis it is covering is 7 feet tall.

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I took elderberry cuttings today.  We have several red elderberries on the new homestead, but reds are not as good for eating and making jams and wine as the blues and blacks, so I would prefer to have starts of the ones we have here, which are always super productive and tasty.  The flower heads on these often reach 14-16 inches in diameter, and they come back up very strongly every year after their winter sleep.  Since elderberries love moist soil, I think they will do even better out in Washington – or, at least, they should not do any worse.

I have also dug up and potted several dozen of my violets.  I have three different kinds at the moment – some pretty little white violets with blue speckles, some plain but prolific tiny blue ground cover type violets, and some lovely dark purple Labrador violets.   I dug several of my hostas up from the side yard garden and planted them in pots a couple of days ago.  They were a bit large to be doing that at this time of year, but they all seem to have made it and look pretty perky already despite the interruption in their growing year.  Hostas should also do very well out in western Washington.

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Things I plan to take that I haven’t dug yet are our lovely dark red rhubarb plants, and some more raspberry starts. We took a few dozen raspberry starts out last time we traveled to the property, and “heeled” them in up in a bare spot above the forest for safekeeping.  Last we heard they were doing fine, but I’d like to have a dozen or more starts in gallon pots as back ups, just in case.  We are also planning to take many of our re-blooming German iris, all of my Orris Root irises, and some starts of the various daylilies we have collected over the years.  We will also take our Siberian, Lousiana and Japanese irises which currently live in pots in the pond.  I am still debating about whether to take my blue birthday hydrangea from a couple of years ago or not. It’s still small, because southeastern Idaho really isn’t the best place for hydrangeas, so it should transplant okay if I pot it up soon.

In addition to all this, we will be taking a large potted fig – which should be a lot happier out there because finally it can go into the ground to grow as large as it wants!  We also have a nice large pot of Rosemary herb as well, which is also hardy in western Washington and will be transplanted into our new herb garden once we get it ready.  Our two favorite mints and our lemon balm for teas are also thriving in pots and ready to go.

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Two things I really wish we could take, but just can’t, are our hardy almond tree and our apricot tree.  They are both just too large and well-established to dig up and transplant.  We plan to replace them this fall or winter.  I’m just glad to be able to take so many of the other plants I have loved and cared for over the years!

It’s hard to garden from afar

But for now, that’s all we can do, so I’m trying to spend the time wisely.

I’ve been spending a lot of the past few weeks reading gardening books – in particular, books about gardening in the Pacific Northwest.  I’ve gardened in the south, on the west coast in a couple of different areas, and in Texas, where the Imageweather can change from summer-hot to blizzard – literally – in just a few hours.  But I’ve never gardened in an area that has so much water.  It’s also a maritime climate, which will be quite a change from most of the other places I’ve gardened, which tend to be more on the desert side of things.  I figure a little bit of research before jumping into the deep end is probably a good thing.

In addition, I’ve been trying to find out as much about the land as I can before we move out there.  I was able to take a small soil sample the last time we were there (that’s part of it in the picture to the right) and do a very simple soil composition test on it.  The results are the soil from that area of the forest is a sandy loam with a bit of small gravel mixed in.  Which is pretty good, actually, because all of the rain there means the soil needs that more open structure in order to drain properly and not stagnate.  The soil sample I took came from a small trench someone dug in a semi-cleared area.  The trench was a couple of feet deep, and the soil looked to be pretty much the same from top to bottom, so I think that not only is the soil composition good, the soil depth probably is as well.

I will take several more soil samples while we are out there next, and run this test as well as some simple soil chemistry tests on them.  Almost all of the soils out in that area are nitrogen-poor and acidic because the steady winter rain washes all of the nitrogen out of them.  We will likely be spending a lot of time building up the gardening areas with compost and other soil amendments, but we prefer to garden that way anyway, so it’s not a problem.  We garden exclusively organically, so we tend to throw all the clean organic matter we can find into the garden every year until the soil is fertile enough to grow our annual vegetables with only a little bit of side dressing.