Did I just poison the garden? The black walnut question.

Uh-oh spaghetti-o’s! Did I destroy our garden?

The gnarly black walnut (Juglans nigra) tree in our front yard finally shed its leaves in November, a good three weeks behind schedule. I raked some of its  mustard colored leaves into the road for the city leaf pick-up and the rest went into the backyard as the first layer of the new compost pile and as mulch on a couple of the garden beds.

I didn’t think twice about it, figuring it could be incorporated into the compost and at the very least prevent the regrowth of too many weeds and grasses in the garden. Of course, not thinking twice about doing spontaneous things to your garden probably isn’t always the best decision.

A week later the cherry tree in the backyard by the garden plopped its whole sticky mess of leaves to the ground. As I raked up its sopping wet leaves it finally occurred to me *insert delayed lightbulb cartoon here* that some leaves might be better than others to compost and use in the garden. What a novel idea!

So looking for instant gratification, I perused the internet for ideas on composting my leaf haul–after the fact, of course. At first I happily found that, indeed, cherry leaves were on the Compost Gardner’s  good list!  Success! But then of course I saw the “not all leaves are created equal” part of the list. The first twinge of doubt came and while I did not see walnut on the list of not-so-good leaves, I immediately looked it up. And what I found was not very encouraging.

It turns out that not only are black walnut tree leaves not the greatest for composting, but they are poisonous, or at least they contain a poisonous chemical called jugalone (not related to the elusive, Juggalo, thankfully).  According to the WVU extension serviceplants adversely affected by being grown near black walnut trees exhibit symptoms such as foliar yellowing, wilting, and eventual death. The causal agent is a chemical called “juglone” (5 hydroxy-1, 4-napthoquinone), which occurs naturally in all parts of the black walnut”. Foliar yellowing, wilting and eventual death? That does not sound good. Not good at all.  Particularly when it is especially deadly for some of my favorite plants including tomatoes and peppers!

BUT as I crawled into the depths of a walnut despair spiral I found a little piece of hope.  The Ohio State Extension Service blurb on black walnut trees notes that black walnut leaves do contain jugalone, but in smaller amounts than other parts of the tree and that the leaves can compost effectively and become benign in 2 to 4 weeks. I do hope that they are correct and that the wet Oregon winter will effectively wash away any trace of poison. Because my plan is simply to wait and hope really hard that it all works out next year.

The jury is out on Mr. Jugalone. The leaves are too far gone to move and tomato season is a long ways out. So the test will have to wait until planting season comes. But lesson learned! It’s always good to do a little research before spontaneous garden activities!

Oh and these guys are another story altogether.

naughty squirrels...
naughty squirrels…

The giant squirrel family (many squirrels, not giant squirrels) that lives next door has probably buried hundreds if not thousands of walnuts in the garden. If the tomatoes survive the leaves, will they survive the nuts? They weren’t particularly happy last year, but I assumed it was lack of sun and inadequate nutrients. Did the walnuts take part too? Well next year we shall see. We shall see.

Does anyone have any black walnut success or failure stories they would like to share? I would love to hear if anyone else has dealt with this issue.


Happy chrismukkahsolsticeaza!


December has come–and almost gone–in a time that has somehow felt so much shorter than any December that has come before. Does anybody else get the feeling this month has flown by more quickly than most? Before it is through and the new year arrives, I wanted to share my belated holiday wishes with all of you as well as a picture of our beautiful menorah and one of my favorite renditions of what I think is one of the most beautiful Christmas songs.

P.S. Expect an update on bunnies and compost shortly!

And then there’s work (and a belated thank you).

I don’t travel for work all the time. Overnighters happen maybe once a month and sometimes I’m gone for a few days at a time, but either way my schedule can be uncertain. As you may guess,  overnight travel and a working farm are not highly compatible. I am well aware.  Luckily, Quiet Owl is just a glimmer of a farm at the moment and I have a partner who is willing to take care of the bunnies while I’m gone. For now, I’m just grateful to have that.

I won’t go into detail about my job today, but I will say that sometimes the travel is not great and sometimes it’s not too shabby. This is one of the not too shabby trips. I am currently the sole resident of a historic hotel in the Washington Cascades. My room is tiny, but it has all I need. A herd of elk are grazing out my window including a cute fuzzy baby that is hard to see in the terrible picture. A hand-stitched quilt covers my bed and there’s hot water and toasty chocolate in the cozy living room downstairs. The bathrooms are shared, but as I’m the only one here, I get two to myself.

??????????     ??????????But I digress. My thoughts are many this evening and I realize I have not  been in touch since Thanksgiving. So I would like to take this opportunity to send a belated thank you to the world for all the supportive partners and friends out there. Without those folks,  I would not even be able to think about starting to pursue my dreams let alone get the first bunnies of the farm herd. I know I’m not the only one. So thank you, good people! Thank you.

And as a side note. I was hoping to get new bunny housing set up last weekend, but something came up and time ran short. THIS weekend it is. And now that it is in writing, it will be done!