Planting Out the Cistern Garden

I started this post back in March after we planted out about 200 fruit and nut trees, berries and perennial vegetables but time got away from me. Here it is July already and I’m just getting around to finishing it up. It’s a long one – mostly for the journal keeping aspect of this site,  so plan accordingly. To read or not to read – that is the question…

Most of the plantings went into the newly fenced Cistern Garden. Luckily they will not have to suffer like the previous plantings we’ve done on the farm. It took us a while to realize that plants actually grow much better when not being constantly munched by deer and rabbits.


We added two new varieties this year. They will be joining our existing Bartletts – at least we think they are Bartletts. A friend dug them up and gave them to us because they were not thriving in his very shady, east facing yard. He couldn’t recall for sure, but thought they were both Bartletts. They have grown quite vigorously since being transplanted a year ago last spring, but they are not filling our fruit basket yet. Their bloom times were so far apart that I wonder if they are in fact both Bartletts. We have a single pear on one and none on the other which has also been suffering a bit of damage from pear leafcurling midge. Fingers crossed for next year…

Bartletts adjusting to more sunshine than they are used to

Tennosui – an Asian Pear cross with the texture and flavor of an Asian pear but bell-shaped like a European pear. I love the flavor of Asian pears but for some strange and inexplicable reason I prefer the shape of the European pear, so this could be the perfect pear for me!

Seckel – I like the look of these sweet little pears. The idea of “snack-sized” fruit appeals to me. Sometimes I’ll pass on an apple or pear because I don’t think I will eat the whole thing or if I just want to add a little fruit to a green salad.

The other two existing pears in the Cistern Garden, an Orcas and a Honeysweet, were transplanted at the same time as the Bartletts. We moved them from our upper swale when we replaced the apples we lost. Since the pear and plum trees were a little worse for wear from deer munching and our near fatal attempt at home-brewed deer repellant we figured it was “do or die” anyway, so why not go ahead and move them and just add more apples to the upper swale. Well, I’m happy to report they seem to be recovering quite nicely.

Recovering Orcas pear


Joining the Schoolhouse and Early Laxton (pictured below) plums we transplanted at the same time and for the same reason as the aforementioned pears, are four new varieties – Satsuma, Toka, Black Ice and Imperial Epineuse. Unfortunately the Imperial Epineuse never budded up and having confirmed it is actually dead, Burnt Ridge is giving us a replacement.

The Early Laxton has done well since the transplant and was loaded with beautiful, albeit tiny plums. The fruit is supposed to be “medium size” but I can’t find anything in my books or online as to why they are so tiny – about the size of a fifty cent piece, some only a quarter. Regardless of size they are quite delicious.


We left the Contender Peach and the Hardired Nectarine in place at the upper swale since they were just about the only trees that had survived the deer, etc… and had grown so large we didn’t think it was wise to move them.  Although they both get peach leaf curl, they are loaded up with fruity goodness this year, so I think we made the right decision to leave them.

We added one Indian Free and two Charlotte peaches to the Cistern Garden, both of which are leaf curl resistant varieties.


I know – sounds a little ambitious (or just plain daft) that we are attempting to grow almonds in the Pacific Northwest, but we like to “experiment”. We do buy 98% of our fruit and nut trees from Burnt Ridge Nursery which is just under an hour from our farm. They specialize in nut trees and claim to only sell trees they can successfully grow themselves. I find that reassuring especially because they are at a higher elevation and colder than we are. Fingers crossed because organically, responsibly grown [and still affordable] almonds are hard to come by.

Ever since we watched the PBS/Nature documentary Silence of the Bees we just can’t bring ourselves to buy them anymore. We have two Alenia and one Dessertiny. They are both hardy and late blooming so keep your fingers crossed we eventually get edible nuts.

Alenia Almond – so far so good


Growing up in Southern California where practically everyone had an apricot tree in their backyard, they are one of my favorite fruits. Planting apricots may be folly as I rarely get a Washington grown apricot that conjures up the flavor I recall from my youth, but I am ever hopeful. I [like to] think I have a better chance of achieving this as I won’t be shipping my apricots around and therefore can let them ripen properly on the tree.

I chose Chinese (Mormon) and Montrose because they are late-spring bloomers. The Chinese apricot has frost resistant buds, is cold hardy and tolerant of wet soils.  It has the added bonus of edible pits that apparently taste like almonds in the event our almond experiment doesn’t pan out.


Ever since our trip to Italy several years ago (wow – it’s been “several” already???) where we enjoyed fresh persimmon juice with nearly every breakfast, we’ve been determined to grow our own. Nikita’s Gift and Miss Kim sounded promising. Nikita’s Gift is a Ukrainian selection – a cross between American and Asian persimmon combining the larger fruit size of Asian persimmon and greater hardiness of the American parent. Miss Kim is early ripening.

Paw Paws

We have never tasted a paw paw but the description of them sounds divine – I can’t imagine not being totally infatuated with a flavor described as “sunny, electric, and downright tropical: a riot of mango-banana-citrus that’s incongruous with its temperate, deciduous forest origins” – can you? Besides we think we have a better chance at growing paw paws than bananas (M’s fav) and mangoes (my fav).

We purchased two Sunflower – a hardy northern selection –  and one Campbell’s No. 1 – a Canadian selection. If we can keep the slugs from eating them we might just get lucky. We’ve put them under shade cloth as they are also susceptible to sunburn when they are young.

Perhaps Cistern Garden should be renamed Wishful Thinking Garden…


I planted out 25 each of Totem, Shuksan and Tristar strawberries. The Shuksan have gone crazy. They have the largest leaves I’ve ever seen on a strawberry. Must be all of that composted dairy cow manure.


When the field mice and birds leave a few berries behind, I’ve been munching them as I weed the beds and they are super delicious. The Totem are smaller, but tasty too. Not sure what’s up with the Tristar – the fruits are tiny and misshapen. From my research it may be that they are not getting enough pollinator action.

About two years ago a co-worker of M’s gave us a Golden Raspberry plant from their yard. I turned that into several raspberry plants and planted them in the Cistern Garden (before it was fenced and named). They were severely munched by deer (you may recall the deer mulch) and then the bear started eating them, so I dug them up and put them back in pots until the Cistern Garden fence was completed. They are back in the ground and now I’m up to 18 plants. They just started fruiting but the fruit is red, not golden… I couldn’t find much about it online except that golden raspberries are a mutant version of red so they must revert back when propagated. Any raspberry propagation experts out there?

Perennial Vegetables

I planted out the Asparagus and Artichokes I grew from seed at home and have been keeping in pots for far too long. They seem to be happy to be in their new home.

 I added 18 Bloody Sorrel plants I also grew from seed I saved from a plant I bought at a nursery years ago. I save seed every year and plant out seedlings in the garden near our chicken coop – the chickens love it.

The bloody sorrel looks nice amongst the strawberry plants with their beautiful red veining and stems – especially when there were strawberries on the plants.

Native Trees and Shrubs

In the temporary nursery bed we built earlier this year we planted Pacific Dogwoods, Blue Huckleberries, and Oregon White Oaks from the Conservation Districts Annual Native Plant sale. We buy bare root plants from the sale every year but have not had the best of luck in keeping them going out in the “wild” parts of our property when planted out in early March so decided we will hold them in the Cistern Garden until they are a little bigger and then transplant them out in the fall.

We planted out 10 Blue Elderberry as understory to the Douglas Firs on the east side of the Cistern Garden. There will be a coop under the trees eventually – a small flock of chickens will be housed there to help maintain the Cistern Garden. On the other side of the Douglas Firs we hope to have a pond with ducks who will also be allowed access to the garden for slug patrol.

M planted out Noble firs in other areas of the property as part of our woodlot diversification plan. Some may become Christmas trees.

This past weekend I transplanted 20 Big Leaf Maples I grew from seed that M collected  last fall along the walking portion of his route home from work. We were going to plant them out in the woods in an area M was thinning alder from. I had left the buckets of seedlings sitting out overnight and the deer munched the tops off of a couple of them, so in the nursery bed they go until fall.

Miscellaneous Trees

Other additions to the nursery bed are two Dwarf Black Mulberries slated for the Chicken Food Forest. They will stay here until that area is fenced. The Black Locusts we planted there two years ago have been taking a beating from the deer and rabbits, so no more plants go into that area until it has been fully secured. There are a couple of apples we started from seed in there too.

Back home we have a Saucer Magnolia that I saved seed from.

photo courtesy of “the honey tree nursery” because I couldn’t find any of the photos I’ve taken of our tree while in bloom…

I sowed a bunch of the seed and ended up with 20 or so seedlings. Rather than try to keep them in pots until we have spots for landscape trees, they are taking up temporary residence in the nursery bed.


At home it so shady that I have to grow tomatoes and peppers in pots on our south-facing deck but that quickly becomes a nightmare – the seemingly non-stop potting up, having pots large enough to accommodate them, watering constantly, etc… so I passed on the last two years given that we are running back and forth to the farm and I have more than enough to do. But I miss the taste of home-grown tomatoes so much and organic heirloom tomatoes around here are $8 lb.

tomatoes from summers past

tomatos, tomatillos and peppers from summers past

Since I have a ton of oldseed, the farm has lots and lots of sun and we now have a fenced garden with gravity fed drip irrigation on a timer for the newly planted trees and berries – why not plant tomatoes, tomatillos, cukes and peppers out there?  It seemed like a good idea at the time…

Well… setting up, testing, and re-testing the drip irrigation took up a little more time than we bargained for, but it’s done now and – here it goes again –  “fingers crossed” we will enjoy beautiful, juicy, flavorful tomatoes this year.

I come from a long line of tomatoes… (it’s a joke son – I made a funny)

I built the raised bed earlier this spring and covered it with lumber wrap (a free source of tarps from your local lumber yard that seem to last longer than the classic blue ones you have to purchase) because we keep learning the hard way that everything around here gets swallowed up by the pasture grasses before you know it. We decided to go ahead and leave the plastic on after planting out since we are usually only here on weekends and already working frantically on a bunch of projects making weeding hard to keep up with. We are trying to stockpile alder chippings for mulching but seem to be using it up faster than we can generate it. You can only do so much in a weekend.

While we were hooking up drip irrigation for the newly planted trees, why not go ahead and plant some squash, pumpkins and melons in between to help shade out the weeds? Don’t want those seeds going to waste and since I have very little success growing these at home, any that we harvest will be a bonus.

Fingers still crossed? Mine are starting to cramp up. Long distance farming – not for the skeptical.


About La Femme Farmer

Starting up a small farm is the goal for the second half of my life. It's a late start I know, but better late than NEVER! Growing food, cooking and eating are my passions and now I get to do it full-time (and then some). and yes, that's a tomato from my garden!
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10 Responses to Planting Out the Cistern Garden

  1. Wow that is a lot of tree planting. No wonder you have issues with your back :). Just the thought of all that digging…

    I hear of people here growing aprictos and almonds – I think they have to be coddled a bit in our maritime climate, even though it’s getting warmer. It’s something to do with the pollination season isn’t it? Would that be related to the daylight hours, meaning that further north (like me) we’d always be marginally successful? I’ll have to google.

    I too have two “Bartletts” albeit several decades older than yours – they blossom simultaneously, but one bears prolifically and the other not so much, and the less productive tree gets ripe later by a few weeks. Weird. The fruit does seem like a Bartlett though.

    Your cistern garden sounds amazing, and with all that in it, must be larger than I imagine…several of the pictures don’t open for me, so I’m trying to picture it all from the few that did.

  2. Hey SSF – glad you stopped by!
    Ya – the digging is not too fun but when we were able to, we used the backhoe on our tractor. That saved a lot of wear and tear on us.
    My understanding of the issues with almonds and apricots up here on the west side of the Cascades are wet springs, wet soils and late frosts. I chose varieties that were cold hardy (Ukrainian selections) and later bloomers. The area they are planted in is on a gentle slope and the soil is well-drained. With the wet springs you have to watch for fungal diseases. I am hoping that the Holistic Orchard guy’s spraying regimen ( will do the trick. Almonds like dry hot summers and wet winters – our farm gets a whole lot hotter than where we live, so we are hopeful.
    Funny about your Bartletts – I guess we will have to just wait another year to see what we get.
    The Cistern Garden is just shy of two acres and we still have lots of space to fill. It sits across from the barn and not too far from where the house will be. It’s our “zone 2” area. As soon as we get an arbor built, we will be adding in kiwi vines and more raspberries, and we have plans to add another 12 – 15 fruit trees and whatever else we plant in and amongst all of the fruit trees (think “food forests”).
    I’m bummed to hear the pics aren’t working for you – I had lots of issues posting them and thought I had cleaned up all of the problems. They all work fine on my end but I’d be curious which ones you aren’t seeing. Thanks!

    • I think I figured out the problem with the pictures – hopefully you can see them all now 😕

      • Yes indeed – a full show now. Thank you. Great views of the deer fence, and I hadn’t realized just how much slope you had so close to the barn. So much variety and so much promise – and so much more fun than all the ditches and conduit, right?

  3. Bill says:

    Beautiful and impressive. I’m envious of how well-groomed and orderly it all looks. Y’all are doing great work there! I’ve resisting using plastic mulch or landscape cloth, but I admit that I love the idea of not having to battle back the weeds and grass. I love the way you’re growing along a berm like that, without tilling the surrounding ground. You’ve given me lots of inspiration with this post!

    • Why, thank you Bill! Funny – when I look at those pictures I think “darn grass needs to be mowed again!”
      I was (and continue to be) reluctant about the plastic – it was just to keep the grass from taking over the bed until i was ready to plant but I guess I’m ok with it – for now. Mulching is going to be our weed management strategy, only employing plastic under special circumstances. But holy cannoli – it takes A LOT of mulch and we have limited time out there right now. We are going to take a tip from Geoff Lawton and grow rows of mulch crops in between the rows of cash crops so you have easy access, built in diversity, etc…
      Great hearing from you!

  4. Wow, you guys make me tired 😦 Beautiful work!!

  5. Kristine Olivadoti-Ratajczak says:

    Hello- I finally had a moment to take a look at your blog. I am very impressed with your farm and have shared this with my daughter. You have a way with words and I think you are a natural teacher. It was nice talking to you!!
    Kristine from the service center waiting area.

  6. Hi Kristine – I’m so glad you stopped by the blog and thank you for your kind words!
    I wish your daughter every success with her interest and further education in Sustainable Agriculture. Let her know we would be happy to be considered a resource.
    I very much enjoyed chatting with you too. If you ever find yourself heading out to the island maybe we could meet for tea/coffee and a visit to the yarn shop ; D

    • Kristine Olivadoti-Ratajczak says:

      I will definitely keep that in mind and thank you. My daughter, Catarina, may also contact you. Enjoy your week, getting ready for your weekend!

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