Down T'Home

Flowers, weeds and mushrooms?

By Marion Tucker-Honeycutt | Jun 13, 2018

My little 1 ½  acre is mostly wood, with the forest hugging the open yard on all sides. This results in only a small spot in the center of the yard that gets up to six hours of sun a day — from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. In addition, the yard is built up from the forest floor — which tends towards boggy — soggy-boggy. So the yard has a goodly share of clay to help block wicking.

It’s nigh well impossible to grow vegetables. They simply can’t get their feet down into the soil, and the farmer’s friend, the earthworm, can’t break it up. I have struggled for years with not a lot of success, even by topping off with compost.

Some years ago, I tried a straw bale garden for my vegetables and turned the regular garden plot over to flowers. (The Japanese beetles appreciated that.)

Setting up the straw bale plot took a considerable investment in materials: hauling straw bales, soil, fertilizers, seeds, seedlings and such. It also consumed many "man" hours through the summer. A great advantage was that the vegetable roots didn’t have to struggle against the clay and I could easily work it as it wasn’t ground level. The ground, for me, gets farther out of reach each passing year.

I took some metal frames that were stacked up on the back of the house from a gazebo I had a few years ago, I knew they’d come in handy "for something" one day and crafted them into a sturdy frame to keep the straw corralled.

But as for the yield from the small area, about 10 feet by 15 feet, was it worth the money and labor? And it still wasn’t getting to hours of sun needed for vegetables. My main motivation, as is most people’s today, was to have fresh, straight-out-of-the-garden food that wasn’t laced with chemicals. Tomatoes did well. Other vegetables did so-so.

The lone pumpkin meandered all over the place and put out blossoms profusely, but nary a pumpkin. Maybe pumpkins need a second plant for cross-pollination? No one could answer that question — probably because anyone growing pumpkins usually doesn’t put in just one plant?

Also, I never saw a honeybee all summer. If I’d had as many honeybees as Japanese beetles, I could’ve plopped a hive box out there and collected a couple years' worth of honey. Too bad the beetles don’t pollinate instead of just eating everything.

I haven’t used the straw bale plot since. It has slowly, over the seasons, settled and sunk down to half its height. I’ve contemplated a few times turning it into a mushroom garden. I’m thinking that if I put some fresh straw on top and enlist some people to save up their coffee grounds for mixing in it, I might try growing some oyster mushrooms first. Maybe some shiitakes too? I’m going to get "sawdust spawn." It’s much easier to get going than plugs. It would take me a month of Sundays to get the holes drilled for plugs.

The plot gets a combination of morning sun, afternoon shade and sun again in the late afternoon. That should be a good growing combination. Wish me luck.

In the meantime, my flowers are coming up almost as fast as the weeds and the lawn. I think the hollyhocks and bee balm are my favorites. Well, then there are peonies, which the ants have been working on to get the buds open. And my roses. I’m especially watching to see how my deep velvety red climber that I put in last year will do this year. Then there’s my “old wheelbarrow garden” and converted birdbath planted with pansies, wave nasturtiums and lobelia. And many more. I guess they are all "favorites."

I have to get out the suet cages with Irish Spring bars around the garden perimeter before my lilies bloom. I just know the lily-munching deer are keeping an eye out for my lilies. (Irish Spring is an old gardeners trick. Deer do not like the smell. (I hang them deer-nose high.) It seems to work better than the commercial deer preventatives. Sure is cheaper.

Now if I could only rent a flock of guinea hens for tick patrol.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools, now lives in Morrill. Her columns appear in this paper every other week.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.