April 25, 2020

Spring Clean-Up

Once things start greening up in spring, it seems like our place goes from bare to out-of-control in a matter of days. With planting and haying going on, it's hard to keep up with it, so some areas only get a once a year clean-up. Such is the case for the herb and flower beds in the front yard. Here's how it looked before we got started.

The "bush" is a tangle of wild rose, nandina, ligustrum, and honeysuckle.
The herb & flower beds are sprouting various grasses & saplings trees. 

Here's how it looked after.

This year, Dan dug out the whole mess, including the roots.
Remaining in that bed is yarrow, butterfly weed, and chicory.

Just a different kind of messy! Usually, I only try to make it look neat, but this year we have plans. The rough circle of bricks you see is going to become a keyhole garden. In the bed in front of the porch, we're going to transplant a couple of our volunteer blueberry bushes. They're attractive, will provide shade and privacy for the porch, and more blueberries! On the trellis (where I've tried and failed to grow hops for the past three years), I'm going to try a cherry-type tomato called "Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato." It's a native of Mexico and reported to be vigorous,  disease-resistant, and self-sowing. It's indeterminate, so the trellis is a good place to try it.

I've also been working on my other herb beds. The problem with them is mostly wire-grass takeover.

I have two currently rather undefined herb beds growing echinacea,
lamb's ear, spearmint, and thyme (front). Oregano, sage, lavender, &
bee balm in the back bed. Dan has plans for new borders for them.

It's always rewarding to get these beds neat and tidy. Unfortunately, by the end of summer they will look wild and unkempt again!

Dan's keyhole garden is underway, so I'll have more about that soon.

Spring Clean-Up © April 2020 by Leigh


  1. Don't forget the oregano, basil, and marigolds by your tomatoes. I planted "Mike" tomatoes one year. Tons of tomatoes! But the darn thing went up 10' and looped back down to the ground, resowed itself. and started climbing back up again by the time a frost killed it. May yours be just as prolific.

    I dunno about unkept beds, you'll be harvesting as they grow. It's gonna be beautiful.

  2. Jo, those would be perfect companions to finish filling in that bed. The unkempt part comes when the wiregrass takes over again! I try to root out as much as I can every spring, but that only slows it down!

  3. I was curious. You say "some places only get a once a year clean up ..." And I have the impression that your life is so busy you just don't have time more than "once a year". Now, I have about the same property as you and my life style allows me certainly to attend to things bfore they get out of control. Just what are you so busy with that means some places of your property just don't get the attention? If you are rushing from one thing to the next is it really worth doing?

    1. Apparently you have been far too busy with your “homesteading “ pursuits to understand the depth of what Leigh and her husband do. Pity

  4. One of the advantages of plantar boxes for our herbs that we filled with sterilized soil in the beginning, it was three or four years before enough birds hit the mark before we started to have to weed it.

  5. Spring Cleanup is one of my favorite (and busiest) times of the year. You are certainly making great progress with yours. I really like the idea of a couple of blueberry bushes in the front bed. My bb bushes maintain some beauty all winter long.

  6. Phantomrijder, let's see. In spring we have kidding, garden planting, barn cleaning, 2-acres of pasture planting with my modified Fukuoka method, four areas of winter hay to cut, cure, and put up in the barn, summer hay planting, winter wheat harvest, wheat threshing and winnowing. I spend most of my weeding time in the kitchen and canning garden, trying to get all my garden mulching done before harvest starts, because there's little time for weeding and mulching once I start picking and preserving fruits and vegetables. It seems like late June through early September, garden and fruit harvest and preservation is all I do.

    Then there's milking and cheese making. I get about a half-gallon of milk per day, so every several days I need to make cheese. Also goat herding (routine excursions in the unfenced woods for forage and browse), mulch gathering, tree cutting, firewood cutting and hauling, and chipping the branches for woodchip mulch. Dan spends quite a bit of his time at the sawmill, making boards and lumber for upcoming projects. If it's a hot dry summer there's lots of watering and irrigation, which requires timing and moving the irrigation hose. I admit that when it's hot (90°F / 32°C and above), I stay out of the sun and switch to shade and indoor projects. In autumn we have corn harvest, husking, and shelling, breeding the goats, barn and chicken coop cleaning, meat harvest and preservation, fall planting (garden, pastures, and hay), and general preparations for winter.

    Of course, there's routine cooking and cleaning, flour grinding, bread baking, along with feed prep for the goats (we grow part of our own feed) and fence repair. Plus whatever projects we're working on. This past winter it was getting our solar up and making more hugelkulture garden beds. There's always a house project: still working on the front porch, pantry, and have two more interior rooms and to do and the greenhouse to build. I also spend about 4 - 6 hours each day on my writing. This year, it's getting my upcoming 5 Acres & A Dream sequel ready for publication. Unexpected stuff gets thrown in there too, like a very sick goat early this spring.

    Besides the front yard, the other area I only get to clean up once a year is our forest garden hedgerow. It turns into a wild mess pretty quickly too.

    That's what comes to mind off the top of my head, anyway. Weather permitting, we can get more done, but on the other hand, we're getting older and must pace ourselves accordingly.

    Ed, I admit we've never used sterilized soil, so it's usually an uphill battle from the get-go. The wiregrass, though, is the real problem. Routine weeds, I could manage, but the wiregrass is tough as wire, so it's an impossible chore. The stolens go under and over everything and it spreads by those plus seed. Wiregrass is ubiquitous here, so difficult to avoid.

    Mary, when Dan mentioned planting something there I told him to pick what he wanted. I was delighted he suggested blueberries! Hopefully, we can get them in the ground before it gets too hot.

  7. Its not wild and unkempt is free ranging and cage freeūüėč
    I find the weed growth or plant growth in general astonishing here in Kentucky. It all can be added back as organic matter. Your Keyhole is hoing to be lovely.

  8. Leigh I noted the sterilized soil question. It has been my experience years ago that it in its own way can cause as much or more woes then outside obtained fill dirt. Loosely translate it can create a murky mess that takes a good deal of time to reconcile.

  9. I will be interested to see the Keyhole. I have never really had success.

  10. Have to show my ignorance: what's a "keyhole garden?" I've grown Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes for many years. Even up here in the far north (okay, I give them a little help with protection) they produce abundantly. The size is really like a cherry, very small, but the flavor is excellent. And they really grow like a wild bush. They should be a real winner for you, Leigh.

  11. Fiona, I love that! Thank you! When I first read Sepp Holzer's Permaculture I looked at his photos of such-n-such growing and only saw a mess of weeds! Now I realize that this is just the way things are. :) I will say that the front yard is the one place we try to keep neat looking, for the sake of the neighbors.

    Goatldi, we tried to get some fill dirt several years ago. I remember signs for free fill dirt, but now they only want to sell it. I doubt it's sterilized. The fill dirt in our "swimming pool" is red and sandy, with a lot of mica in it. I find it doesn't grow garden plants well, just weeds.

    TB, when I first mentioned to Dan I thought the spot would be good for a keyhole garden, I assumed it would go somewhere near the bottom of the to-do list. But he got right on it! I'm taking lots of photos and will share them soon.

    Mama Pea, it's a brilliant concept, used a lot in arid areas in Africa. It's a round raised bed with a compost bin in the center and a path allowing the gardener to get to the bin. These features form the look of a "keyhole," hence the name. Compost is frequently added to the bin and that's where water is added too. Do an image search on "keyhole garden" to see lots of really neat ideas.

    I'm glad to hear you've had good success with Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes! I hope I do to. I planted half a dozen in a seed tray, but they were a no-show so I've tried again.

  12. Hello Leigh! I’m shocked that anyone would challenge how you and Dan spend your t8me, I can only think that some folks don’t know what goes into the daily life of a self sufficient homestead. Very excited to see the development of the keyhole garden. I know what you mean about that cursed wire grass... just backbreaking trouble. I have found some slight slow down of the growth by putting down the old Plastic feed bags along the edges of the garden and burying them. Of course, I have to dig them out every year, but this does seem to slow those underground roots down a little. Thanks for sharing the keyhole garden. I love that you share your experiences with us!

  13. Wyomingheart, I've found the feedbags to be helpful in the battle against grasses too. It's true it's "more" work replacing them, but I think it's preferable to a tenacious grass takeover! LOL You can bet I'll be diligent to make sure no wiregrass roots get put accidentally into the keyhole bed!

    I think the clue in Phantomrijder's comment is "lifestyle." Same property and a lifestyle that allows for an ongoing neat front yard implies a lifestyle that isn't homesteading. Most non-homesteaders really have no idea of what goes into a self-reliant lifestyle, so the work flow makes no sense to them. But perhaps we should ask him.

    Phantomrijder, my readers are curious! Please tell us about your property and how you manage it! We'd love to have some insight into the lifestyle behind your comment!

  14. I had a chuckle at the above post as well. I've spent most of my life doing my small part in living sustainably. Now i have my own place, only 3 acres, and have a lot more perineal things in place. And still can't keep up. In my defense I do work a 36hr, taxing job... But the goats, ,pigs, milking, breeding, picking, processing, slaughtering, planting, composting, mucking, weeding, insect control, rendering, varmit control, (have bear an coyote close) an of course where I am it's getting hot and will be for next 6 months... I too would like to hear some tips form the above poster about easier ways... Especially being "over the hill"... Tree trimming, some roofing, some things I've slowed down on for lack of youth.
    And I planted mats wild cherry about 4 years ago an it produces like crazy... Chickens, goats, dogs... This human, gets plenty..

  15. Annie, more things to add to the daily to-do list! It's never ending, but the up side is that there's no excuse to be bored. :)

    I'm glad to hear the Matt's tomatoes did well for you! I hope they do as well for me!

  16. I love keyhole beds! Permaculture spiral herb beds are really cool looking! Good luck with you new tomatoes, would like to see how those do, great variety, never heard of it. Where do you find some of your unusual seeds from? Thanks!

  17. Nancy, I buy from Baker Creek, Pinetree, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. SESE seems to have the most unusual seeds of interest for me. Both they and Pinetree carry the Matt's wild cherry tomato, although I think they're fairly common to find through the internet.

    Renee, planning is always fun, but I'm guessing you still have snow!

  18. Working outside is super rewarding to me. This year will be the first year that I do raised beds. It's a lot of work but I gotta say, so fun.

  19. Ivy, hello and welcome to The Happy Whisk! There are a lot of advantages to raised beds! I hope yours do well for you.

  20. Thank you. I am loving building them.

  21. that's a big transformation! I've just really started infusing oils with herbs and flowers grown here on the homestead so I'm really thinking about the placement of the herb garden this year. I want to expand so I can really add a bunch of herbs and flowers. I also forage for some so I want to make sure that the 'wild' flowers (dandelions, queen anne's lace, milkweed, chamomile, daisies, to name a few) have space to grow as well. You've really got me thinking now! Some herbs and flowers will be interplanted in the veggie garden, but maybe some outside the back door for convenience?!?

  22. Wow, removal of that stuff up front really brings out the beauty that was hiding at the front of the house. Great house.

    Orange Jeep Dad

  23. Siento no que no haya podido estar viendo tus progresos en el campo ,pero en mi país hemos estado muy mal con la pandemia.
    Los resultados que est√°s haciendo son estupendos ,veo que tienes hierbas arom√°ticas ,estas son esenciales para ponerlas cerca de la ventana de la cocina ,es una buena manera de tenerlas a mano para cocinar.Que pases una buena semana.
    Un fuerte abrazo.

  24. Alicia, Spain was hit very hard; I'm so sorry. I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe. Aromatic herbs near the kitchen window is a great idea!

  25. Hi Leigh. Regarding your wiregrass problem: we have kikyu here in South Africa, which is also a stolon - grower. Most lawns here are kikuyu. Last season, I found that laying down cardboard and piling straw onto it, worked very well as a groundcovering, keeping even kikyu in check between my raised beds. In autumn I rake everything up and compost it. (I do a big cleanup and preparing for spring, as well as compost pile building with horse manure and spent plants. ) I am amazed at the amount of earthworms under that cardboard/straw mix.

  26. Unknown, I'm so pleased you took the time to comment. Interesting about your stolon weed problem. I concur that cardboard and mulch (I use wood chips) on top is the best way to control. It worked well last summer, but I need to take your suggestion to rake it all up, compost that, and start fresh. We've had so much rain that the cardboard is disintegrating a year later. Thank you again!

  27. I can empathise with the need for vertical solutions, when it comes to some plants. Getting those herbs up from competition, ultimately means less work for you, maintaining the herb bed - but also allows the herbs to push out maximum growth in a season. I'd much rather the herbs I grow, take over the containers I grow them in, rather than have other plants competing with my herbs. Because herbs are simply the icing on the cake, when it comes to making food of any sort! We had cut fresh herbs on our pizzas tonight. So delicious!!

  28. Chris, interesting you should say that because I'm expanding my container gardening this year. Partly inspired by you and Tanya!


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