Well, it’s mid-october. The chicken water was still frozen on top after work at 6pm yesterday, despite the bright blue sky and warm-feeling sun. I really need to bring in the rest of the turnips and the beets before the ground freezes them in!
I’m almost done with the winter chicken coop (about 8’x4′, ~8′ tall, R-11 walls and floor, R-20ish ceiling, a small window and high vent on the south, a small closable door on the north into the yard; there will be 2 nest boxes and a perch or two – all built into the back of an existing shed). The garden is almost cleaned up and mulched for winter. The 3 bee hives all starved to death, at various times throughout September – there just weren’t enough sunny, dry, warm days in August to collect stores. I’m saving the Warre hives (they lasted longer than the bees in standard Langstroth boxes), but probably just trying sugar beets next year. Honey bees do not seem to be a low maintenance permaculture animal up here in Alaska. I’m happy some people are doing well with them here – gathering lots of honey and having overwintering success, but I think I’m good with the plethora of native bees that wend through my garden all summer. It was very instructive to watch the honeys work and build comb and swarm and kill drones and such, and I have a ton of pretty bees wax now, but it’s just not sustainable to keep shipping them up from California every spring.
So now, with garden projects winding down, I become, characteristically, super motivated to plan and dream and peruse online nurseries. I really probably shouldn’t plant any more trees, but I think, on paper anyway, I could squeeze in 10 more plus some espaliers along the house? With the Summercrisp pear having born such delicious fruit this year, and the plentiful cherries and berries, and the apricot and hazelnut and such all still alive and looking well (despite a quick and circumspect moose pruning last Saturday that inspired my dad and I to get the fence repaired and upgraded), I’m dreaming of some more exotic additions – ginkgo biloba, american persimmon, quince, guomi, autumn olive, medlar, mulberry, asian pear, heartnut, chestnut, oh my! Many of these would be very questionable in this zone, and would have too short a season to fruit, but the only thing I’ve lost so far is a couple of grape plants and a plum I grew from seed, so I’m emboldened to try and stretch the boundaries. Not sure I can still afford to gamble on $500 worth of bare root trees and assorted vines and bushes and other perennials though (that’s what my wish list shopping cart is up to at One Green World right now).
I’ve also been re-devouring Toby Hemingway’s Gaia’s Garden, and thinking of guilds. I’ve got some half completed apple guilds (apples with currants and strawberries and red clover under, and a ring of tulips – need some comfrey and umbrel herbs and such), and Toby lays out a walnut guild that I could try with the heartnut if I purchase that. I also looked up some ecology of red elderberry online. Even though there is plenty of it around to wild forage and make my winter cold season syrups from, it’d be nice to have some in the yard. These are plants I have found they form communities with: choke cherry (maybe use another prunus sp.?), service berry, rose, red alder, conifers such as spruce, mountain ash, various ribes (currants & gooseberries), phlox, snowberry species (in the honeysuckle family, so try honeyberries?), oregon grape, oak, bedstraw, maple, birch. I already have spruce, rose, black currant, mountian ash and birch in my front yard, so this seems like a perfect place to add in some elderberry (maybe I’ll try a black or blue elderberry since I can find red in the woods here), and a few of the other members of a guild. Alder would handle some nitrogen fixing, the low growers would provide living mulch and all the trees would provide fall leaf mulch. Plenty of flowering plants to attract pollinators. Maybe need some yarrow or cow parsnip or other umbrel flowers to attract beneficial predatory insects? There are also tall trees, smaller trees, bushes, and midsized herbs in the list above, but maybe something really low for ground cover and something rooty for that zone, and some vines? And I’m definitely tucking fava beans everywhere next year!