tea & flowers blog

A Change of Seasons


In my last blog post I mentioned the challenges associated with ‘Year One’ at a new site. Since then we’ve continued soil vitality and remediation efforts using aerated compost teas: Magical elixirs teeming with microbial life. I can certainly see the effects as many blossoms continue to stretch toward the sky even as we approach autumn equinox. I’ve considered adding another layer of trellis netting for some varieties as I’m surprised by their vigor! And our dahlias… They continue to exude color and grace beyond my wildest dreams.

Pests are still an ever-present foe, but things are changing. The hot-weather species are less prevalent. It feels less like a pest fiesta and more like a subdued gathering. The seasons are changing. Life in general is slowing down. So only those that tolerate the cooler nights remain. And I’m able to keep them at bay with a more reasonable Integrated Pest Management (IPM) schedule.

Audrey and Wally at farm

A big part of my job this time of year involves looking ahead. My wife and I certainly are considering what flower varieties to plant next year, but for me the Grower, my immediate priority is putting our little farm to bed properly. Especially before the rains set in and working conditions deteriorate…

In my previous post, I referenced the clayey and silty-loam native soil at our site. We’re situated on a slice of micro-valley floor in a hollow on the eastern edge of the Coast Range. Some beds are ‘better’ than others with regard to fertility, so it’s up to me to choose which get more attention as I’m tucking them in for winter.

My method of choice for building better berths for next year is ‘Lasagna Composting.’ No, it’s not tilling in a bunch of Italian food to fortify the soil. It’s an ancient method where you pile several layers of organic material atop a grow zone. It’s something that requires foresight, as you’re planning on said materials breaking down slowly over the winter in preparation for spring planting. Also referred to as ‘Sheet Mulching,’ here’s an OSU Extension Service link  giving the rundown.

dusty miller

The general model we employ at Looking-Glass Farm is to apply a few to several layers of greens, browns, compost and manure atop beds we’ve cleaned out thoroughly. How many layers depends on the quality of the bed: If it was quite productive, I do fewer layers; if it was atop difficult hardpan or was less fertile, I apply many layers. We use cardboard boxes and unbleached kraft paper, harvested flower greens and clippings from adjacent beds, grass trimmings from the yard, compost, and –the secret ingredient– manure from our own horses and sheep!

In addition to the above layers I try loosen the native soil beneath problem beds to improve drainage. A broad fork is my go-to tool for this. My good buddy James Brougham of Sparrow Hawk Farm introduced me to this life-saver. And the good folks at Concentrates, Inc. have encouraged its use as well.

So our little farm trods onward. The seasonal changes mark the end of our growing season, but the work’s not done. Looking ahead we’re making deliberate preparations to keep the romance alive. Our autumn composting efforts will enable more spirited blooms and elegant whimsy. As I tuck in each bed for winter I can’t help but reflect on the beauty each one produced. And looking forward I’m excited about what’s in store for ‘Year Two.’