“Zen Mountain” Garden Primer and so it begins

A garden Primer..

Stick sh*tte in the ground… If it grows , you’re gud.

For those of us that don’t have perfect conditions it takes a wee bit more effort.

We don’t have the worse environment for growing but with constant winds , no trees for shade or to slow said wind down, drought conditions and rocky clay soil , we get  an honorable mention at least.

Keeping the gardens small , spending the time and effort , using fails to learn instead of

” Well sh*tte won’t grow here. ” Trust me some form of it grows everywhere.

The first stages of Garden Prep

Last Saturday we made our first actual rounds to take a look at the gardens after a long winter’s nap……………………………

Ok. Fine… When you get into the technical aspect of the whole endeavor it breaks down to me glowering at dirt….. Did that make a difference in the early stages of our gardens? Well, I don’t know..

Let’s go to the gardens and see what they have to say about the experience :

” Sooooooo.. How did that make you Feel??”

” Did you feel refreshed? Invigorated? Anxious ? Uncomfortable? Afraid? This is a safe place . Express your innermost feelings”

….It’s called analyzing the soil people. I read someplace  that yer suppose to do that…

Yeah , whatever…. It’s what I do… and then I toss bull sh*t at the problem..Just like in the big city…………….

Then I put my hands on the soil , raise my eyes to the skies crying out:

“HEAL thyself!  La! You are Cured !”  Followed by the ever popular “Spock” Hand gesture and

” Live long and prosper “…

Garden prep accomplished…” Congratulations ! You have finished this level 1 ! On to the next level ! Prepare yourself! START Now!”

So yeah… That would be the shoving seeds into starter pods… Somehow it loses something in translation.

Put them on the Rack ! Muahahaha…

Ma has a nice little rack ( growing rack guys…jeeze ) that we start our plants on. This year we figured we’d do a boost to the set up. The rack is set up with seedling warming pads , trays that hold a wee bit of liquid , the plant soil containers with clear covers over them. Above that are the plant lights.

We added a wrap around on three sides with white paper to reflect the light back to the plants..every bit helps.. Also, under the warming pads we placed just normal shop towels . The difference is akin to a heating blanket verses a heating pad , a simple thing that will hold the light heat of the pads to once again redistribute instead of all the heat simply dropping from below to nowhere.

With only the front open , the same warmth will hold instead of dissipating. We are only using two of the four levels so why let all of the light and heat go where it isn’t needed ?

Will the plants be ready in time? Meh.. We shall see. We normally start the first batch in mid winter . Thing is… The second batch generally catches up, quite possibly due to the drafts of the rack being at the entry of the Zen Homestead.. That is where it fits so that is where it shall stay.

For what ever reason , the normal ; ” set the pots by the windows and let them do their thing” doesn’t work in the new house… slightly unnerving but there ya go.

The old house I use to grow some of the veggies in the house …New house they simply wont. Window material or goblins ? So now we have our little growing station.

In less than a week , as one would expect, the pots are greening up .

On to the beds

The East Garden

The garden that worked so well for the hot peppers will be housing the Tomatoes,  Hot peppers of course, Ma’s Italian peppers ,The runner beans and peas again , and asparagus along the front.

The garden isn’t really that big but we had 50 pepper plants in there before so it’ll work. We also found that the rate of production was insane last year by me just adding a sheet of plastic around the East portion of the lower edge . We will be adding a little more of a wrap this year. It warmed the soil as well as slowing winds which were cooling the plants in the chilly Zen weather.

The cooler temps of Zen and the almost constant winds tend to trash output from the gardens with the exception of this one as it is out of most of the worst of the winds.

This boils down to making the garden our canning plot. If we pull off even half of the production of last year it will still be insane…  Adding  tomato plants and changing types of peppers still means a wait and see..

She is established and simply gets some manure and super soil added to the bed . A quick till and she is ready… We are hoping to give her a face lift in the future.

Hummie Garden

We switched Hummie into mostly herbs last year which most did great. The South East corner is ravaged by winds no matter what we do as they whip through the North end and down between shop and house to scour anything and everything in that area. Years of trying to block the wind has done no good at all..The rest of that garden does very well however so losing a  square yard at most is ok I suppose.

In moving plant setups again this year , we are looking at adding back a few of the veggie plants . Probably peppers.

Hummie is also established  getting some soil and manure. With all of the perennials this is a little harder to work… Minor tilling on the inner edges , the rest is fork and rake.

Little Eden Gardens

Little Eden; the home for so many birds and bunnies as well as the wretched squirrels that make gardening difficult , has three distinct veggie gardens plus a raised garden.

The raised garden has to be moved this Spring as it just doesn’t do well where it is. It shall go to the South end..Slightly warmer slightly less wind and we will need to make that cover for it. The theory being this will be what we hope will make it the root and salad garden…Winds destroy anything leafy so hopefully moving it will help.

So she is going to be completely new again…”Gawwwhh”  New soil and manure once the frame is moved. A top needs to be built and hope she will do something.

Being above ground , once summer hits for those couple weeks it can go badly.  The sun has a tendency to fry anything raised on the East side. Lowering the soil height to JUST what it will take will mean less soil to dry out during the day. Using the raised bed more for protection from the critters and winds than anything is the goal this time around.

The North Garden last year had the tomatoes and Italian peppers as well as Brussel Sprouts and eggplants … Tomatoes and Peppers didn’t do well though as it was the garden’s first year I didn’t expect too much…I got what I expected.

This year , hopefully , we wont run into the problems as we did last year and we can finish up the soil building for all of the gardens

The North garden will have the eggplants again and the Brussels along with I imagine some peppers and some of the Zuke plants. This garden has a North wall behind it which cuts down on some of the winds and warms it a bit. The brutal winds from the west however  tend to smack the crap out of things.. including razing a series of wind fences to the ground over night.

The tomatoes rotted last year in this garden. As I said , I couldn’t finish the new gardens last year. This being its second year is a good start. The soil from the raised garden will be tilled into this one as well as “new” manure . She should do fairly well.


The Center Garden once again will carry the bulk of the squash families . Zukes, pumpkins , cantaloupe ,Acorns and Butternuts will make their homes there. Last year’s cantaloupe was amazing at the southern edge of the garden and the Zukes put out more than enough for lots of pickles, relish , bread, boats and more. Squash did fine but we lost the bulk to a rot that hit their storage area…CRAP! We are going to look at canning a bunch this year. The center garden gets the same winds but the slope does actually make a big difference in how the plants handle it. The south drop creates a nice warm spot that is great for our cantaloupes ..whoda thunk they’d grow up here?

This garden will take a heavy hand with the tiller yet again and she takes a lot of new goodies as well. She is one of the older gardens ,and so, does well. She also gets hit pretty hard across the upper portion by winds so needs a good boost. She will do well ( for up here) again this year I am sure. The last two years she has constantly improved.

The South Garden well… That’s where I blacked out while working the bed and just never got it finished. This year we will get it built up and once again run Corn and bush beans along with a squash or two. The Basil was there last year and didn’t do any better than anything else but if I can keep from doing something stupid this spring , I think we can fix all of that. The clay was just too unworked … We’ll get it set up better this year and it will , of course, be its second season .

We will need to go in with a lot of soil per square foot and the same with manure. Till deep and hope the good soil outweighs the bad. Though technically year two on this bed, it didn’t get much help last year so we shall see

Prepping soils

You have probably heard about dirt… Some people have had a little more experience than that.. Maybe under your sofa where the robot vac wont fit…

Working with good soil is different than fighting with old worn down dirt.

For us , it isn’t just buy a bag of soil and we are all good… It takes a season of the good stuff convincing the bad stuff that

” Yes.. plants will grow here..We just have to work together.”

Tilling is a great first step in marrying the two together.. still not always a fix-all. In our case at least, the old crap dirt leaches up into the good stuff as well as good to bad… Even though we are in ” You can’t get there from here” land something really sucks the life from plants… and car batteries for that matter.. Whatever it is eats lead… weird…..


We have clay soil…..That is the only thing that can hold up to the winds up here… We fix soil , the winds hit and all of that pretty soil is on its way down the mountain to Gotham below…

If we get our timing right, we get the soil manured and added better soil to it.. Get plants in to hold said fancy crap , get it all watered in and then we stand a chance.. More than once I got a bullsh*t shower as I dumped manure from the tractor’s bucket towards the bed, over the deer fence just as a gust hit…Brilliant!…and pungent…..

It’s all about timing..dodge and weave  .. be one with the manure….which in my case seems to be pretty easy…

Bury that crap

A good layer of well rotted manure goes a long way once it is tilled in …and rests .

In a perfect world; we would put the manure in in the Fall.. The problem is, for us , We go from hard as stone to sloppy goo without any happy medium.

One good rain changes the color of the terra cotta plate we call soil up here. The second good rain and we are ready for Mud Wrestling . Sooooooooo… We toss stuff in as early as practical in the late winter early spring…

The first year of a garden is generally  ” Gawwwhhh”

The second season is ” Meh “

The third hits ” BooYah “

The garden from then on is pretty nice, less water use , less additives in the spring which means less tilling …which in turn means less soil erosion from the winds… Life is good.

For the folks not battling Winds and heavy clay.. go for Fall prep and let it rest. Plant a green manure crop if you can to add a wee bit more oomph .Clover is great… well unless it seeds then hopefully you enjoy looking for four leaf clover..A lot. Some form of bean is good as well ; edible for you or animals or ornamental  works so long as they are annual.

There are tons of them out there. Grass clippings works to set garden soil as well, just remember it’ll use up the nitrogen.. Yikes!

Cover it up

Should you or should you not cover a garden while it rests… We don’t bother though a sheet of black plastic can kill weeds in the heat and warm the soil for a little better seed start in the early spring. The sheets will also help prevent leaching if that is a problem for you. We encourage it to break down the problematic soil that is Zen.

Rock and Roll

We have one thing this year that will not be a major problem….. No new gardens means a whole lot less rock rolling.

Slamming a shovel into our soil shocks your wrists and makes the shovel ring. The clay of our soil is what holds the rocks together. Our ” top soil” is more akin to powdered sugar on doughnuts …..The doughnut being rocks. Our lower section you can dig about eight inches before you hit a shelf which is around one to two feet deep..AHHH! There’s the soil! Imagine how excited I was to find that out with a truck bed full of trees…. One lived………..Jolly.

This year , however , I know I will , of course , find and move rock as always…We grow them up here…They won’t be large , just annoying. rock vs soil feels something in the realm of ” one for you, one for me ” They will also , mostly be palm size and smaller. The originals get up to 100 pound monsters ..


Generally with a tree out of the pot for final fitting.. Hole is perfect except just that LAST root.. You dig..” PING!” ” CRAP!”  a boulder.. You turn the tree as you dig the new area.. ” PING!” ..  I walk out into the field , retrieve my shovel ,and spend the next half hour pulling out the stones with hand spades and pry bars.. Ma climbs in the hole digging around until we finally work it out…. Then winter kills the tree… Really ?


What works best ?

We are still working up new varieties. Plants change with their stay on Zen. We find a variety that works then keep the seeds. The new plants actually tend to be hardier and fruits change over the years. With all the seed catalogs out and good nurseries with someone that knows what they are talking about you have great options.

Our guy at the nursery we go to has worked with us for a few years now and it is good for both us and him.

We try things he suggests.. If they die he knows enough about Zen top now that he can help others fighting the same or lesser problems with our feedback.

When plants go crazy up here ; Zen approved plants, are the go to for folks having troubles and he passes that along.


We grow what we either can’t find in the store or if they are keepers we grow  them simply because everything we grow is still better than the best we can find locally.

Don’t grow more than you can use whether fresh or preserved it in a way that you will actually use .. Not just because someone said you should.

Snow Peas, Sugar Snap peas, Roma Beans Blue Lake beans.

Eggplants that aren’t bitter and less to no seeds

Peppers are a couple Italian varieties . A thick flesh bell . Hot peppers from 1 mil scovile range down to Hot Bananas and Poblano  . They vary some from year to year depending on what we need for the mix.

We dry tons of peppers .. mostly for Zen Pepper mix which is hot but lots of flavor and I cook with it pretty much every day.

Potatoes are better from home than you can buy in the store. Cantaloupe that has the texture and flavor we remember as kids… well unless you aint old enough .. On and on.. just don’t get carried away simply because you have the space. Gardens die of neglect that way.

Sweet Canning pumpkins.

Butternut , and acorn squash.

Our tomatoes are a Roma variety and a cherry tomato that is basically a mini Roma.

We make and use gallons of pasta sauce for all kinds of dishes throughout the year. You can’t buy nor mix up these flavors..and you know what’s in them.

The tomatoes and Italian peppers along with other goodies go into Ma’s sauce.

Zukes, and when we can get them ” Eight Ball” zukes.. The eight ball being great for ” boats ”



We grow almost all of the herbs we use… Spices…well that’s a different story isn’t it…

Our Parsley never did stop growing through out winter. Chives also keep growing back..which we need to divide up this spring..

Different types of Thyme and Sage . Oregano , Marjoram and more end up in all but a couple meals here and there.

They have more flavor than store bought and we know how they were raised.


We plant fruit trees.. They shade and , well , have fruit.. win win… We have to share with the birds and beasties up here but there is always the shade and wind cover.

Trees grow very slow up here due to all of the issues I brought up so it is no quick fix for us.


Most bushes die up here… too much work for them , leaves all burn from wind and sun..Yes.. even barberry .


Clematis rules here…….Trumpets do ok…Not a big list there…



Remember this one thing if you forget all the other silly things I write..

Growing plants is not simply growing plants… You grow, you learn from mistakes that though being mistakes are seldom life altering….. . You are never too young or too old to start learning from plants..even the dead ones…simply figure out what you learned…

People with a ” black thumb” tend towards not wanting the responsibility of keeping something alive … Even when I only had 15 gallons of water per 24 hour period year round coming from my well, along with the winds and sun as well as the ratty house, I had plants that did just fine.. Yes, I had others that couldn’t handle Zen… Can’t make everyone happy.

Find what works or go with the ” I’m just not interested in plants ” route which would be interesting that you made it to this point in the Post this week.

Spring Break !

Yup Ma and I are on Holiday this week… Which means , of course, we are working Zen instead of working at a paying job.

Working for ourselves is, of course, a lot more fun…. Well until something breaks down..Then I throw a fit and Ma has to figure out how to get the tiller out of the tree.

Will we finish prep? Unlikely. We are quite a ways off from Planting time so no big deal.

House chores and

“Yes Hummie, the  windows have been taken from the porch.”

Windows out and the feeder moved makes Hummie a happy boy…Until he finds something else that I have or haven’t done wrong in his Hummidom …

We have three Anna boys up here now as the weather turns keeping Hum on his toes.

I didn’t get a chance to see if it was him or one of the younger that flew to where the feeder had been only to remember it was moved to the original spot , slamming on the air brakes and backing up eight feet…

” Did anyone see that ? “…” Crap! “

Cold winds on Saturday dampened my enthusiasm to play outdoors so we worked on small things inside.

Ma started knitting a pair of cabled socks and finished said pair Friday/ Saturday. Her work is amazing as well as being able to put out work so quickly. Even during an average work week , Ma was able to make a nice intricate shawl . She does a lot of pattern testing for folks and her work is nice enough to make the cover on the patterns.

Sunday Sunday Sunday

No soup! No soup for you !

We are on holiday this week so no “Double double toil and trouble , fire burn and cauldron bubble”

If we do end up doing a soup…If we find we are doing far too much to stop and make something to eat..Then we can whip up a soup that is more delicate than our norm.

We eat soup five days a week at the very least during the normal work week.  Quick , warming , filling and energy packed as they are, of course, Zen made not out of a box or can.

I always go into withdrawals when there isn’t one in the crock and yet on breaks I tend to forget about eating until Ma gives me ” the look” come about bed time and I hadn’t remember to make breakfast… Keeping in mind that she didn’t either..’whoops-a-daisy

Road Trip!

I hate driving… I dislike riding…now…My new and severely unimproved vision I get car sick walking out to the car. Even the tractor and or lawn tractors make me woozy. Oh well , not a heck of a lot we can do about it right? Soooooo

Town Trip !

We only have a couple stops so it shouldn’t be too bad.. Florescent lights suck too * chuckle* yes yes, I am lame…er… lamer now. Wearing a cap low and dark glasses.. Heck I only need a black duster and I’ll have the perfect ” Creepy Dude ” look going for me   Score !

Home Depot is on the list for garden goodies as that is about the best we have in Gotham..Ahhh quality tools….umm…noooooooooo. Which is why we have to pick up new again.

A quick grocery stop and quick turn around to Zen. We will see if the day warms as it is suppose to. So far so good this morning.



Final Thoughts

Spring Holiday. Time for us to be able to spend together without the rush to get me off to work then run home to grab a bite and pass out in the “Evil Sleepy Time chair ”

The garden work starts though far from ending. Lots of hauling loading dumping tilling.. All for pretty small gardens..relatively speaking.

We enjoy the work , the gardens , the veggies, flowers, fruits and herbs. Watching things grow is always fun…Well, not grass ……

We will find out what did and did not make it through this mellow winter. After last year’s crap winter this one was pretty sweet….of course it took me weeks to Chillax .

Every time I saw a storm headed this way I held my breath..Until I started watching farther out having switched my reference sites to one that was more on the money for our area.

Now we are in Spring mode. That small window when we can get the beds ready and

work on the road…

If I can keep the only neighbors from continuing to undo my work before I am finished anyway…

Flora and Fauna

With the changing of seasons everything changes on Zen. Wildflowers will soon start to show.

Animals are preggers and showing more all the time.

Will we catch the wolves coming through ? This is one of the times of year when we see them….

Will Dumbear  show up soon?

What plants made it? What plants didn’t ?

Every time I look around I see new things that show the changing of the seasons.

A breath of Spring

The dawn is late , the clouds hiding both star and waking sun. Vapors travel across the fields and meadows leaving the grasses damp in their wake.

The tales of fog wisp through the groves , lumbering beasts of the low clouds. Quietly stalking the hill tops as they make their way to the lowlands .

Deer stepping through the fog, its tendrils curl about their legs , clinging to their coats. The does seem magical , ethereal as they appear only to slowly dissolve once again in the greys of the morn.

The silence shattered as the birds flock in to the feeders . Hundreds of voices on the breeze from meadows trees and groves .

The birds flock in as waves landing , greeting and squabbling  only to fly off again making room for the next wave to crash .

In a heartbeat , all is silent . I look to the feeders to see the birds have left. The deer have moved into the fog. Nothing but the hush that presses about Zen when the clouds are heavy.

The hawk flies low over the meadow , swooping to the fence as he watches me. I smile, raise my cup to him and he is off again.

I catch movement in the fog. A dark figure laces its way through the plants and grasses. Smiling , I watch as the young female coyote makes her way along her morning route. She stops as she feels my eyes on her back. The female looks up to where I stand . I can feel her eyes scanning me , recognizing me . She looks about her and off she goes again.

We have no chickens, no wee tiny pets so no reason for either of us to have aggressions towards one another. They help to keep down the vermin populations and ,they and the crows clean up our efforts of the same. The coyotes are a benefit not hindrance for the Zen Homestead.

The hawk on its way , the birds come back in groves once again the world is full of sound as it reverberates inside the walls of clouds.

The morning sun begins to press at the low clouds that make up our fog, lifting them enough to bring the shape of the river below if only for a moment then it is gone again.

Heavy clouds slowly fill the hill tops again relieving themselves of moisture as them settle. Rain seems to come from everywhere. It doesn’t so much fall as it simply appears .

And so starts

Just another day on Zen Mountain






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