Erin Vaganos

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since May 31, 2020
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PA, USA Zone 7a
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Recent posts by Erin Vaganos

Last year, I moved from CA to a 4.3 acre property in horse country just outside of Philadelphia. About 2.5 acres (the whole eastern side) are in a wetland forest, while the remainder was nearly all lawn, with a few big pines and crabapple and a dogwood and hawthorn at the northern end. It was a ton of mowing at the end of last summer when we moved in. We didn't get a mower until late in the season, so I did a lot of the lawn with the electric weedwacker to make do--insanity.

The trees, hedges, and front garden area were really overgrown and crawling with brambles and poison ivy and multiflora rose, so some of the first equipment I invested in were a chainsaw, a manual pole saw, and a handheld pruning saw. My dad helped me clear out the back of our fenced in area at the rear of the house, and we put up a half cord of wood in no time.

After clearing out the back, my husband and I fenced in a pretty large area for hogs (Berkshire and Old Spot-Tamworth) and let them clean out the rest of the understory brush. After they did that, we set up an electric fence for the rest of the overgrown fenced-in area, and they happily went to town. My husband built a beautiful shelter for them too, and I painted it an autumn orange color. I miss them, but it's been nice not having to buy any meat from the grocery store.

We also raised our first batch of broiler chickens (Cornish Cross) that summer--built a chicken tractor, moved it every day once we put them out to pasture, and 8 weeks later harvested 28 chickens for the freezer. We did the second batch (Freedom Rangers) this past April/May. Lots of trial-and-error the first run: starting out, we put 3 chickens in the tractor and three days later, they were gone. There were a few holes dug out around the perimeter--so glad we could provide a good meal for our neighborhood foxes. So, we tried again and put heavy-duty hardware cloth under the edges so it surrounded the tractor. Success--the foxes were frustrated, and every morning for a few days afterward I found that they had chewed through the rope I used to move it.

Last fall, we also built a small greenhouse. It ended up collapsing during a heavy snowstorm, but my husband fixed it a few months ago.

This past spring, I started planting my ass off, and I haven't stopped yet. Here is what I’ve planted in the orchard/field/vegetable garden areas so far:
    *4 apple trees (Gravenstein, Golden Delicious, Golden Russet, Cox's Orange Pippin)
    *Methley plum tree (grew like crazy its first season)
    *nectarine tree
    *3 apricot trees
    *hardy orange--Poncirus trifoliata
    *Empress peach tree
    *pawpaw--Indian Banana
    *Allegheny serviceberry
    *3 red buckeye trees
    *4 false indigo shrubs--Amorpha fruticosa; browsed some by deer
    *5 wax myrtle shrubs--Morella cerifera; deer don't eat
    *Aronia prunifolia; pretty resilient when nipped at by deer
    *2 elderberry bushes; really hold up to deer pressure
    *3 bristly locust shrubs--Robinia hispida; 2 died
    *2 wisteria vines; deer don't eat
    *4 Sweetcrisp blueberry plants--growing on in pots
    *hardy banana--Musa basjoo; growing like crazy
    *Several different kinds of willow--goat willow, sage willow, weeping willow (several of each)
    *3 witch hazel; deer browse
    *10 Adam's needle--Yucca filamentosa
    *lots of Joe-Pye weed--Eupatorium maculatum; heavy deer pressure
    *lots of comfrey--deer like, but grows right back
    *3 northern catalpa--plan on pollarding and coppicing; deer usually don't bother
    *2 red mulberry--growing like crazy; deer browse but resilient
    *Nanking cherry
    *Goji berry
    *several different kinds of grasses
    *rose of Sharon
    *2 butterfly bush
    *4 winterberry--Ilex verticillata
    *3 inkberry--Ilex glabra
    *2 redbud--Cercis canadensis
    *5 red twig dogwood--Cornis alba
    *3 buttonbush--Cephalanthus occidentalis
    *several different kinds of Viburnum; grows really well here
    *day lilies galore; I harvest them wild
    *lots of different kinds of iris
    *moving new baby hostas to shady fenced-in parts
    *3 different kinds of lilac
    *several different species of Monarda
    *several different kinds of mint
    *beach rose--Rosa rugosa
    *3 meadowsweet--Spiraea sp.
    *hazelnut--Corylus americana
    *trumpet vine--Campsis radicans
    *coral honeysuckle vine--Lonicera sempervivens

I'm sure I'm forgetting a few...In the orchard area, I planted in connected guilds I made up, in large curved rows facing south. There will be a few trees that will grow up to 25-30 feet, while most of my fruit trees are semi-dwarf. At the far eastern end of the orchard, the soil starts to become hydric, and the grass and forested area is very, very wet. The willow, elderberry, and winterberry are in heaven. I've also found a lot of spicebush and more winterberry back there. Plants definitely still grow there, even though I think some spots develop anaerobic conditions. There are gigantic colonies of skunk cabbage. I've also been putting grass clippings and pine needles and sticks and leaf litter back there, so a lot more stuff is growing at the edge this season.

Keeping weeds down around the orchard guilds was a challenge, but I finally have a system. After planting, I topped the fruit trees with compost (after inoculating the soil too) and put down a layer of wood chips. I pretty much collect all my grass clippings when I mow and pile them around the growing things. Any dead limbs/sticks/weeds I find I also cut up and scatter them over the clippings. It works really well, since it rains a lot here and the layer of clippings becomes matted and hot and stifles out anything growing beneath them. I do let the weeds grow around a lot of the small shrubs I planted--they hide the small shrubs from the deer. The small winterberry hedge is overcome with tall grass, but I've marked the plants with sticks and keep the weeds away from their base--they are doing really well and are now shielded from heavy browsing that initially had them nipped down to the ground. I find a lot of praying mantises in the long grass.

Also, just a bit of walk into the forest, I found a bat colony up a tree in an old hollow. My girls and I love to watch them come out in the evening and flit around the open spaces.

Also this spring, I made 2 small raised beds for the start of a kitchen garden. I grew a ton of broccoli and kale and pak choi and herbs in them. And I put together a Langstroth hive and got a nukebox of bees--I keep them near the forest and the chicken coop where I let the grass grow long this year.

This summer, my husband and I put up a 7-ft. tall fence around our vegetable garden. Right now, you can only enter it through the greenhouse, but I plan on cutting out and building a door sometime this fall. The garden area measures ~100' x ~40', but I only cultivated about a third of it this season. I made 4 beds that are 4' x ~30' and 2 shorter 4 ft.-wide beds. The footpaths were made using landscape fabric overlaid with wood mulch from several dead ash trees we had removed from the south eastern part of the property this past spring.

We pickled 8 pints of cucumbers, canned 6 pints of tomatoes sauce, 8 half-pints of pizza sauce, and 15 pints of salsa. Unfortunately, all but a few of my Amish past tomatoes died, so not as much canning as I thought. Lots of big and juicy heirloom Brandwines, garlic, eggplant, watermelon, and peppers also--Jimmy Nardello and Ausilio and Wenk's yellow hots. Only a few summer squash--I got a variety that was not so prolific. Also tried sour gherkins this year--my kids loved them. I didn't get a chance to grow any kind of bean this year, hopefully next year so I can freeze and dry a bunch.

I wish I started this journal earlier, because I know I’m forgetting a few things. I’ve been a lurker on Permies for a while but haven’t really had a chance to see what’s been going on here for the past few months. I’ve been so busy, frequently overwhelmed, alternately frustrated and inspired, surprised more times than I can count. I feel like I’m also constantly learning—I never get tired of just observing living, growing things and places. In the past, I’ve been a freelance illustrator and a teacher (biology and earth and space science), but I can honestly say that this—growing my own garden farm and trying as best I can to do so using permaculture principles—is truly my passion. Most people I meet and know are accomplished professionals in a variety of fields; I used to feel shitty and deficient, like I was a failure, for not wanting to climb those ladders. I am so happy I found Permies and get to look at and read about different people from every corner of the earth doing amazing things and growing a better world—I’m getting all sappy, I know. But I don’t feel deficient anymore, just empowered and knowledgeable and creative and purposeful.

The growing season is winding down, and I’m glad for a breather but looking forward to fall work and the beginning of other projects. I’ll be cutting down dead trees and limbs in the weeks to come and clearing out future areas to be fenced in. I am also starting a Master Gardener program in October that I’m really looking forward to.

Some of the books I’ve really been enjoying: William Robinson’s The Wild Garden and Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening.

2 years ago
There was an article on the Audubon site about it a while ago, cautioning people to take down feeders:

They advised you could put your feeders back up at the end of August, but they still have no idea what it is.
2 years ago

tel jetson wrote:seems fine.

how often are you poking around in there? an inspection from time to time is probably a manageable setback for the colony. constant disturbance, especially for a new colony, can be pretty detrimental. I know it's difficult to manage one's curiosity, but consider more observation of entrance behavior and less opening the hive.

okay, good...not poking around too much, just the one time first inspection. I took note of how many frames were was a few days ago and about 7, so I'm just guessing now it's about 8. But when I looked, drone brood seemed to fill half of two frames. And yep, I've just been watching the entrance--lots of drones.
3 years ago
What if I have more than 10% drones? 7-8 frames are filled in the brood box, with 2 frames half drone brood.
3 years ago
Hello beekeepers, I have a question. I just installed a nuc colony from a reputable local beekeeper about a week ago into a deep brood box (shown in pic--I have an empty medium on top with food sitting on the inner cover), and I'm pretty excited about it so I watch the hive a lot. The workers are going crazy because the crabapple blossoms bloomed the day after I installed--I see their little legs carrying lots of pollen saddlebags. I did my first inspection a few days ago, and the queen is there, laying normal eggs, there's brood in all stages, the empty frames are filling, and I think I'll have to start putting the frames in the medium soon...but there seems to be a lot of drone brood too. And today I was watching the entrance, and there's a ton of drones about, flying from the hive. It's been clear and mild, weather-wise, in the mid-60s. Is this normal?
3 years ago
I'm reviving this thread because the topic's fascinating to me. And I didn't want to take over another thread about getting rid of pampas grass to talk about a lot of discussion points that are already taking place here. I like taking the ecological point of view when it comes to invasive species. As an observer, avid reader, and science teacher, I take the stance that they're not good or bad.

Repeating some of the previous responses here--it's curious that for every one invasive poster child that's reviled and accused of potential world domination, there's a dozen more that go relatively unnoticed or even loved (some wisteria and lily of the valley, in my neck of the woods). I think in some cases it has to do with their niche, what their role is in their native range, and what they do when that niche presents itself for the filling. I’m talking about the invasive plants that take over disturbed land that a lot of people are likely to see, along highways and roadsides, in little snippets of land between roadways, in small parks surrounded by houses in dense neighborhoods--they get a lot of the press. A lot of the “bad guys" are the pioneers that are really good at gaining footholds in disturbed (land that has significant changes in nutrient retention or biomass, e.g.) or fragmented ecosystems or simply places where nothing is growing. Like garlic mustard in my area--you would think it's on a rampage judging by some people's descriptions and responses to it. To my eye, it's not--it's growing on roadsides and under pine trees (and it's growing in a bare patch of yard where I hacked down some barberry--ironic), and it happens to make a delicious pesto. Even native pioneers are labeled “invasive” by farmers and homeowners--but just because it “invades” the backyard or cornfield or apple orchard doesn’t make it a bad guy. The land has been disturbed--this is nature’s response.

Like the pampas grass argument--the meadow being invaded in the example I was shown doesn’t look like a meadow to me. It’s a clearing at the end of a sliver of woodland/shrubland hedged in by thousands of houses and buildings and streets in a large suburb of San Francisco. That does not constitute an ecosystem disturbance by an invasive species (it’s in a small city) because that ecosystem is seriously fragmented--native grasses in wild places are established along a timeline of natural succession, and in natural succession all those factors like biomass and primary production and soil properties are changing from one stage to the next. If you want something different to grow other than pampas grass, let it grow and die and change the niche parameters so something different will thrive (probably the trees that are growing there in the middle of the sliver).

I taught in northern CA about invasive species in biology class and discussed pampas grass a lot in that unit. I was reminded of the first attempt to reign in pampas in the other thread--how a lot of people took it upon themselves to spray the grass that had started growing on canyon soil disturbed by loggers that was eroding away. Many kids asked why that was bad--why not let the pioneers settle and stop the erosion? I silently agreed with them in that debate. They’re (pioneers) the first line of succession, and in succession there is no one way to reach the climax community. The invasive plant isn’t “exploiting” because only predators and parasites exploit in ecological terms--they live at the expense of others; the invasive plant is competing with native plants for the resources in its niche. In interspecific competition, whether between native species or native and invasive species, one species inevitably outcompetes the other (lots of times the invasive isn’t competing with anything because there’s nothing to compete with in some disturbed areas). Interactions may or may not be redefined, niches may or may not be affected. If they are, it just means that the change may lead to divergence in the morphology of competing species--natural selection. Evolution. Wow, what a mouthful. Not good or bad, just par for the course, because even though a landscape may seem eternal, it’s not. It’s always changing--just on a much different timescale than we’re capable of perceiving most of the time.

A lot of the students ended up asking if we humans were an invasive species--a fair question. And unlike pampas grass, which grows according to its growth habit in places that accommodate that habit, humans actually change their environment. Pampas still “plays by the rules,” just like all other plants, even though it’s a fairly new introduced player on the field; humans are players but they're also capable of changing the entire field.

Just one point of view. Now I have to get myself back outside and cut back some damn Rosa multiflora ;)
3 years ago
Happy Earth Day to you, too!

3 years ago
I don't want to be the stick in the mud here, but I keep thinking of all the things I've read about invasives in permaculture books like Gaia's Garden and the one that was given away not too long ago here on Permies, Building a Better World in Your Backyard--that they're not the bad guys a lot of people think they are.

Looking at Malek's photos, I was caught by the one with the baby pine tree. I couldn't stop looking at it--why the heck is it growing there? Did it germinate before the Pampas, or after? Looks like after, as Pampas clumps take around 3-5 years to get that established. If that seed did germinate right there all up in the Pampas grass's business, why would it do so?

You're on the California Coast, where it can be salty, windy, and pretty dry--those are some harsh conditions for a little plant. Maybe the Pampas is being a protector in this case--it's very good at withstanding salty air and wind. And yes, the grass roots can grow to be more than 10 feet long--at first you would think that that would be bad for the little pine tree. But then again, it gets dry on the coast, and any ground with roots in it is retaining water. Furthermore, baby pine tree taproots grow to be pretty long relatively quickly--I've read the range is anywhere from 5 to 20 feet. Larger mature pine trees have a taproot anywhere from 35 to 75 feet long!

And after 10-15 years, the Pampas grass would die, leaving an established pine tree to grow for who knows how long. You may have just stumbled on a truly excellent way to grow trees along the coast...
3 years ago
Thank you, Kristine--she is one of two Faverolles I have right now and the gentlest hen I have. They are funny personalities and have the appearance to match--feathery legs and poofy cheeks. As per your advice, I'll wait patiently for her to hatch some chicks, no intervening or trying multiple things to rush her along...if there's one thing I've learned from striving for a more self-reliant life--in the garden, growing trees, in building projects, with animals--it's patience and letting things take their course.

Jay--I had similar thinking, and a "few" eggs is six. After reading about your "setting boxes" I'm also going to move her to a box I've built to lessen the chance of disturbances. Thanks very much!
3 years ago
Thank you all for the replies and good info. I think I am going to give her a few fertilized eggs to sit on, as Mike suggested. I found a fellow chicken lover nearby that has a few. Matt--she's a Salmon Faverolle--mixed reviews on broodiness. When I first got her, she and the rooster used to hang out all the time, and before she went broody, she was the one who spent the most time in the coop just sitting. I guess it's just in her blood.
3 years ago