A Gardening year: preparing the plot

>> Saturday, June 30, 2007

For all of you who have felt the urge to start a garden, congratulations for rediscovering our agrarian heritage. That urge is rooted in a time when farming, for the sake of feeding ourselves, was once so necessary, so much a part of the fabric of our lives, that it would never occur to us that we would not ever have a food garden or farm. A backyard garden may be small but it is still a farm. With the proliferation of cheap, readily available food year-round from supermarkets and farmers markets, we no longer have to farm. The trade-off is that we have lost touch with our heritage.

Growing your own food, once a necessity and a chore, has become more of a treat. For the fresh taste that you simply cannot get from store bought produce. For the variety of produce that supermarkets cannot provide. For the sheer joy of creating life out of your own backyard, through your own toil and sweat. These attributes, experienced by home gardeners everywhere, cannot be measured.

Gardening is a pleasure for all your senses. Feeling the suns warmth on the almost silky smoothness of well-worked soil as it flows through your fingers, smelling its earthy almost sweet aroma, seeing the soil come alive with worms and other critters, tasting the freshness of vegetables and fruit that you have grown, hearing the wildlife that your efforts have attracted, all of these aspects make gardening worthwhile.

Just because we are surrounded by row after row of tract housing or stacked up buildings doesn’t mean we can’t grow something beautiful and/or edible.

Once you have picked and tasted the fruits of your labors gardening can truly consume you. You will end up spending hours lost in the Zen-like reverie of tending your garden that will force you to re-prioritize your place in this world. You will find a peace that you cannot find anywhere else.

If you are serious about gardening, you will soon learn it is as much about tending to your psychological well being as it is about tending to nature. One of the first things you need to do is put yourself in the frame of mind that it needs to be enjoyable. Once you have lost the fun factor then you may as well go find something else to entertain yourself.

Gardening is fun, but not in the way of anything else that offers the instant gratification that is necessary for some people. It is long term. After all, it is nature and nature is not an overnight proposition. It requires dedication, it requires patience, and it requires you to understand that there will be failures. Sometimes these failures can be of your own making, often times a failure can be attributable to mother nature herself. Do not take it personal. Nature has failed billions of times and yet its beauty can be found everywhere.

I think it is important to note that gardening is for more than just our health and enjoyment. We are creating a habitat for natures denizens. Insects, both good and bad, birds, both beautiful and not so beautiful, mammals, large and small, and of course us.

Now, if you are still here and still want to go forward with turning that boring and non-productive lawn into the beautiful and bountiful flower or vegetable patch of your dreams, then please read on.

You should decide now if you want to build raised beds or dig trenches around your plot. Walls and trenches are an attempt to keep the surrounding lawn from encroaching into your beds. If you dig a trench you will have to re-dig it every once in awhile, until you get tired of doing it and end up installing a barrier of some kind anyway. The advantage of raising the bed now and surrounding it with boards or concrete blocks is that the soil will tend to stay looser because there is less chance of you walking on it.

Turning your chosen plot of earth from lawn to garden is not something that happens overnight. After all, it took awhile for that lawn to fill in so it makes sense that any plants you put in will take awhile to thrive. You are going to need good quality soil, access to water and properly selected plants that will survive in the amount of sunlight that hits your plot.

Healthy soil is key to healthy plants. Whether your soil is ideal to begin with or if it has been laying barren for years, keep in mind that you will have to amend it every year. A combination of natural materials such as soil and compost, composted or aged animal manure, leaves, grass clippings, shredded newspapers, cardboard, and/or anything else that breaks down in the soil will go a long way towards maintaining that healthy soil texture that supports microbial life. Gardening is more about feeding the soil than about feeding the plants. Healthy soil needs to be loose enough to allow roots to easily pass through yet thick enough to support the plant so that it can stand up as it grows larger. Soil needs to also be able to retain water through periods of drought without having to water it every day and adding natural materials will keep this quality.

The plot you choose ideally should be no wider than three or four feet, so you can reach across it without stepping on it. Stepping on it compacts the soil, not good for growing things in. Some people place a board across the bed or stepping stones to prevent stepping on the soil. Outline the area with a garden hose, bricks, string, sticks, flour, spray paint or whatever to get a clear picture of the final shape of the bed. Nothing is really final in gardening, we all make adjustments as we go but once you have the layout identified the area needs to be cleared of all grass, plant roots, rocks and other debris.

Existing grass can be either removed or smothered.

To remove the grass, you will use either hand tools (turf edger and a square shovel) or a machine called a sod cutter. In either case you will be left with pieces of sod that you can either place in other barren areas of the lawn or throw onto the compost pile (lay them upside down on the pile to help smother the grass and expose the roots to the sun). After the plot is clean, break up the top eight to twelve inches of soil with a pitchfork. This tool is great for this job as you are not necessarily looking to dig up the whole area, just open it up so water and soil amendments can reach down into the substrate. You might be tempted to rent or borrow a roto-tiller but I caution you to resist the urge. Roto-tillers tend to more completely destroy the soil structure and there is growing evidence that soil just below where the tines reach can become a hard pan which is difficult for plant roots and water to break through.

Next, spread top soil mixed with compost or composted animal manure. What we are doing here is improving the soil texture. The manure is a great way to attract earthworms, the true workhorses of the garden. Spread the mix about 3” thick and then work it into the top six to eight inches of soil with the pitch fork. After digging it all in and leveling the plot, sprinkle the area with a gentle shower of water until just before puddles form. This allows the soil to settle, pushing out any air bubbles.

Smothering the grass can be done with clear plastic sheeting or newspapers. Use the plastic sheets in the summer so the heat of the sun bakes the grass until it dies (3-4 weeks). Use the newspaper method at anytime of the year by piling on 8-10 sheets and holding it down with soil until the grass dies (several months). The newspaper method is best done in fall and allowing it sit over winter. A way to speed up either process is by spraying Glyphosate on the grass first. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in many products on the market such as Hi-Yield and Round-Up. This chemical is considered the safest in that it will break down and become harmless within 10-14 days. I have used this method and it works great. After the grass is dead, the grass becomes a mulch and you can now pile on top soil mixed with compost or composted animal manure.

As the soil ‘ages’ you will begin to see earthworms throughout the plot, this is an excellent sign that you have the start of a fairly well balanced ecosystem.

When choosing plants for your new plot, pay particular attention to your growing zone and light/shade requirements. Full sun means at least six to eight hours, and more than this can be too much.

Be sure to follow growers recommendations for the proper width and depth of the hole. Then fill the hole with good garden soil and some fertilizer, time-released 10-10-10 is probably best.

Doesn’t it feel wonderful to know that you have taken the first steps towards bringing life up out of the ground and reconnected with your past?

Well this is enough for now. I’ll cover compost and mulch in another posting. So, until then good luck and have fun.


Goin' Fishin'

>> Friday, June 29, 2007

My wife and I are going to try to get out of the high heat expected the next few days by climbing up into the Wasatch Mountains and pitching a tent by a lake do some fishing.

Arrangements have been made concerning watering the plants and the lawn. The cherries have all been picked, the raspberry production is winding down so that won't be a problem.

I have shade structures set up for the few plants that are still in the process of getting established (Astilbe Amethyst, Hosta Golden Tiara , Hosta Piedmont Gold, and Hydrangea Parzifal) so hopefully everything will work out fine.

If not, there is always next year.

Have a Happy and Safe Fourth and Happy Birthday America!


Clematis woes

When we got back from vacation this week the biggest disappointment that faced me was losing my clematis jackmanii flowers.

This is what they looked like before we left.

And a closer view.

This is what they looked like the day we got bak.

Very disappointing. The flowers were supposed to last through September. I don't know if the heat is the culprit or a lack of water. My neighbors said they watered but the flower just wilted and fell off. I'm thinking they were not watered as deeply as they should have been.

I'm hoping more buds will appear. This is the first year I ever got this many flowers from a clematis.


Green Cure fungicide

Here's a safe and environmentally friendly way treat some common plant diseases such as powdery mildew, black spot and gray mold.
Check out the report here.


Found this fertilizer that looks really promising

>> Monday, June 25, 2007

I saw an ad for this product called Worm Poop. Naturally, it caught my attention. It is liquid worm casings, which is an organically rich product that has been touted for years as one of the best fertilizers to use for feeding plants as well as protecting plants from a myriad of pests.

The ad said the company recycles bottles that customers send to them and I thought, now that sounds like a win-win situation in that it helps keep at least some plastic out of the landfills, for awhile anyway. The ad directed me to www.terracycle.net to learn more about how to get your organization involved so I checked it out.

I realized, after reading about the product that I have heard of this product from another gardeners blog a couple of months ago, sorry I can’t remember who, but then I saw the article about them being sued by Scott’s Miracle-Gro. After reading about the law-suit and learning why Scott’s is suing, I could not believe it. Scotts claims that the two companies’ products look similar and will ‘confuse customers because some TerraCycle plant foods have a green and yellow label with a circle and a picture of flowers and vegetables on it.’

I looked again at the product and realized that when I first looked at the Terracycle product that I did not even think about Miracle-Gro. Therefore I am convinced that this lawsuit is completely without merit. I don’t think we gardeners are simple minded enough that just because a package is similar in color to Miracle-Gro that we will think we are buying Miracle-Gro. I think Scotts is insulting our intelligence. We can read after all.

The website goes on to compare the two companies from several different aspects, which I personally think is a little “over-the-top” and unnecessary, but Terracycle is the ‘little guy’ and underdog type in this battle.

TerraCycle is requesting our help by asking us to write to Scotts Board of Directors telling them why they should not sue TerraCycle and I for one am going to write to them.

I do feel insulted by Scotts claim that we as consumers cannot tell the difference between a Miracle-Gro label and any other label that is yellow and green.

I also would hate to see a company that has the foresight to attempt to address the recycle problem as well as promote an organic way of life get pushed out of business because some goliath feels threatened.

Are there really more people who would rather grow plants with chemicals than to grow them organically?

I am sure, or would like to believe, that gardeners have at least heard of the benefits of organic gardening and have also heard and seen proof of how chemicals are damaging our environment.

Let’s all write to Scotts and tell them that we are intelligent enough to read labels and differentiate between chemicals and organic products. Let’s be polite about it and not be insulting as they have been towards us. Let’s remind them that TerraCycle is small enough not to be a threat to their profits and that Scotts does not need to own the entire market.

Perhaps we can suggest to Scotts that maybe they can learn from TerraCycle’s example and start their own recycling program to help clean-up our environment.


Gardening = strong bones

>> Sunday, June 24, 2007

Found this in the latest issue of Garden Gate magazine,

"Researchers at the University of Arkansas recently found that gardening is good for your bones. Women age 50 and over who gardened at least once a week had higher bone densities than did those who jogged, swam, walked or did aerobics. It's probably the combination of hard work - digging, pulling and pushing - and being outside in the sun. Sunlight boosts vitamin D production, which helps the body absorb calcium."

And we thought gardening only helped relieve stress.


Back from vacation into the hot sun

Went to California to visit family, had a great time. It is really good to be back. While we were gone our garden struggled to 90 to 100 degree heat but my neighbors, bless their hearts, pitched in and help make sure everything was watered. I am happy to say that everything came through beautifully. Now it's payback time! We have such wonderful neighbors.

I found this wonderful site while surfing and thought I would share it. http://gardeningtips.org/February/recipe.shtml It has a lot of old recipes, free stuff, garden trivia, garden crafts, herbal remedies and of course helpful tips for what to do in the garden on a month to month basis.
This is the time of year when we start thinking about shade. Some plants struggle through the intense heat delivered at the hottest part of the day and can really benefit from a bit of shade. Even those plants that like full sun can benefit, especially while they are trying to establish themselves. I found some old screens at a yard sale and they gave me an idea. I can make a teepee type structure out of bamboo poles and use twist ties to attach the screens to the poles and set the teepee over those plants that need the shade. Like my newly planted shrubs. I have a couple of viburnum that look like they are not going to make it through this summer. What is really funny about this is that I was just sorting through my mail that was delivered while we were on vacation and the latest issue of Garden Gate magazine is in the pile. In that magazine they talk about this very topic. They show another great idea for making shade, they stand a screen up like a room divider in front of plants. They also say that I may need to place some shade cloth over the screen if it isn’t able to block enough sun. The shade cloth is rated at varying degrees of sun protection so be sure to choose the right one for your application and can be found at any home improvement store.


Bees are disappearing

>> Sunday, June 10, 2007

I found this article in the LA Times, written by Jia-Rui Chong and Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writers. dated June 10, 2007.

I have been following this story with great interest as it affects all gardeners. Here, are some excerpts from that article.

Scientists are at a loss to pinpoint the cause. The die-off in 35 states has crippled beekeepers and threatened many crops.

Scientists have discovered that the traditional cause in the decline of the number of bees is not what is happening this time. Typically, when dead bees are “autopsied” the cause of death is due to mites or amoebas. The damage caused by mites and amoebas is quite different than what is happening now.

Dennis VanEngelsdorp, the acting apiarist for the state of Pennsylvania, discovered that internal organs are swollen with debris and strangely blackened. The bees' intestinal tracts were scarred, and their rectums were abnormally full of what appeared to be partly digested pollen. Dark marks on the sting glands were telltale signs of infection. His examination of bees in November 2006 was one of the first scientific glimpses of a mysterious honeybee die-off that has launched an intense search for a cure.

The puzzling phenomenon, known as Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, has been reported in 35 states, five Canadian provinces and several European countries. The die-off has cost U.S. beekeepers about $150 million in losses and an uncertain amount for farmers scrambling to find bees to pollinate their crops.

Scientists have scoured the country, finding eerily abandoned hives in which the bees seem to have simply left their honey and broods of baby bees.

"We've never experienced bees going off and leaving brood behind," said Pennsylvania-based beekeeper Dave Hackenberg.

Researchers have picked through the abandoned hives, dissected thousands of bees, and tested for viruses, bacteria, pesticides and mites. So far, they are stumped.

According to the Apiary Inspectors of America, 24% of 384 beekeeping operations across the country lost more than 50% of their colonies from September 2006 to March 2007. Some have lost 90%.

Honeybees, scientifically known as Apis mellifera, are required to pollinate a third of the nation's food crops, including almonds, cherries, blueberries, pears, strawberries and pumpkins.

VanEngelsdorp says that Varroa and tracheal mites have occasionally wrought damage on hives since the 1980s. At the state lab in Harrisburg, Pa., VanEngelsdorp checked bee samples from Pennsylvania and Georgia. He washed bees with soapy water to dislodge Varroa mites and cut the thorax of the bees to look for tracheal mites; he found that the number of mites was not unusually high.

His next guess was amoebic infection. He scanned the bees' kidneys for cysts and found a handful, but not enough to explain the population decline.

Bee disappearances have been reported over the past hundred years or so in places such as Texas, Louisiana, California, Florida and Georgia. The reports gave no cause and reported the bee population increased shortly afterwards.

Bee specialists have been investigating the effects of pesticides and insecticides on bees. Studies have shown that pesticides can kill bees and throw off their ability to learn and navigate.

Several researchers have been sifting through bees that have been ground up, looking for viruses and bacteria and discovered a large number of pathogens that suggests the bees' immune systems had been suppressed, allowing the proliferation of infections.

One of the unusual features of the disorder is that the predators of abandoned beehives, such as hive beetles and wax moths, refuse to venture into infected hives for weeks or longer. It’s as if the affected hives have become toxic to bee predators.

In the absence of knowledge, theories have proliferated, including one that Osama bin Laden has engineered the die-off to disrupt American agriculture. This one really had me shaking my head.

One of the most pervasive theories is that cellphone transmissions are causing the disappearances — an idea that originated with a recent German study. This theory "is a complete figment of the imagination." The German physicist who conducted the tiny study "disclaimed the connection to cellphones." "What they put in the colony was a cordless phone. Whoever translated the story didn't know the difference."

Another popular theory is that the bees have been harmed by corn genetically engineered to contain the pesticide Bt. Illinois is surrounded by an ocean of Bt pollen, and the bees are not afflicted."

Please don’t spread any of these foolish notions.

I for one am trying to go towards a more organic lifestyle and have been amazed at the number of natural methods of pest and disease control available. I have tried some of them and have had mixed results. But at the same time I don't believe it is reasonable to go for a 100% kill rate when it comes to pest control. After all, beneficial insects need something to feed on. and when we use a pesticide to 'kill-off' a threat to our crops we are unintentionally killing the beneficials as well.

We can afford to loose some of our crop to pests but it is doubtful that we will loose the whole crop. Granted, we have all heard of cases where there has been a total wipe out of crops, but that has been because there was an imbalance created by man's use of pesticides that killed off every insect and then left room for a different insect or disease to come in and destroy everything.

Here is a website that has a very extensive list of organic methods that I have found useful, it is http://www.extremelygreen.com/pestcontrolguide.cfm.

This website is very helpful in identifying any pest or disease you may have if you send them a description.

There are also many other sites, just go to Google, or your favorite search engine and type in 'organic pest control'.


Photo quality, Gardening excitement & being a blogging rookie

>> Thursday, June 7, 2007

My photos don't look as good as everyone else's, that is clear. I am behind a very steep learning curve but am trying. Hope everyone has patience, I am certain I will get better with practice. Just getting these photos resized and uploaded has been a monumental accomplishment for me and I am proud of the fact that I was able to do it, so there.

I guess I am supposed to be doing this blogging thing for me anyway, as a means of keeping a journal of my mistakes. So, as far as building a foundation of mistakes that I can improve upon, I am building a very broad base indeed.

I am excited about being able to grow something other than vegetables, which is where most of my gardening experience lies. I have had several failures, mostly shrubs, for some odd reason. I thought viburnum were supposed to be easy to grow.

Once I get those problems worked out my frustration at flower gardening and landscaping will be lessened. None of this has dampened my enthusiasm so I will continue to carry on.
This garden is not quite two months old and I am trying to learn as I go, I know that's what all gardeners are doing. I am proud to be in such good company as those that I try to learn from. I want to take this opportunity to give thanks to all of you who do share your gardens with the rest of the world so that we may learn from your talents (and mistakes) as well.

Until then, I will continue to practice these things called digital photography, gardening and blogging.


Water, not to be taken for granted!

>> Wednesday, June 6, 2007

This past week the garden has not received much attention due to high heat (temps in the 90's), although I have done a lot of much needed weeding early in the day and I have had to water every day. Also, yesterday we got hit with high winds, up to 50 mph at times! This can be a curse because winds dry out the soil as well. Last night it rained and the rain is continuing through today.

I'm very thankful for the rain. We don't ever get enough of it here in Utah. We are constantly reminded of how this is a desert environment and because of this we can only water between 6pm and 10am. We are faced with fines otherwise. And there is always hanging over our head the fact that we may not have enough water to last through the entire season. In 2004, the canals ran dry in mid-September! I should mention that we get our irrigation water from a canal system that fills from a very large lake south of us, Utah Lake. That lake is mostly filled from the snow melt from the surrounding mountain tops. Sometimes we don't get enough snow to fill that lake. This year is one of those years.

The irrigation canal water from Utah Lake is not filtered, unless we as homeowners are willing to filter it when it reaches our homes. And the filters I'm talking about only filter out weed seeds and it does not have anything to do with making the water safe to drink. The lake collects the runoff from the hundreads of thousands of homeowners who live around the lake. The runoff is loaded with whatever fertilizer and chemicals they deem necessary to put onto their lawns.

The financial cost of this water is less than the treated water we take into our homes, called culinary water. Some people opt to use only this water on their lawns and gardens, even at the higher expense. We are still charged for the irrigation water wether we use it or not. What a deal for the city, right?

There are plans being hashed out to improve the current water treatment plant to provide us with at least some filtration of this irrigation water, but that won't come about for several years. At that time most of the unfiltered water will be directed to highway landscaping and not so much to residential use.

The rain water is cleaner than what we get from Utah Lake, although everyone knows that air pollution does sully this water as well, but at least it doesn't have weed seeds that need to be filtered out! It always bothers me somewhat when I hear the weather person say things like "Gee, hopefully this rain will stop soon." It tells me that this person cannot possibly be a gardener.

So, I welcome the rain and wish there was some way we could get a lot more of it.


May Recap

>> Monday, June 4, 2007

This is the first year I have grown allium of any kind and I planted two different kinds that bloomed this month. The Rosy Bells bloomed a bright reddish pink
and the the Sunny Twinkles bloomed a bright yellow, both very nice looking bulbs. They bloomed later than I thought they would. Still, it is nice to have the bulb blooming season extended in this way.

Carrots are coming along nicely, I planted two kinds, 'Danvers Half Long' and 'Thumbelina'. Both were chosen for their short roots due to our clay soil. The Danvers were put into one of the raised beds and the Thumbelina was put into a container on the deck. I wanted to see if I could grow a salad garden on the deck in containers since I have never grown plants in containers before.

The Clematis 'Jackmanii' has set some beautiful deep blue flowers on the last day of the month.

Coreopsis 'Early Sunrise' has begun to show signs of color. This is surprising since I just planted these one month ago.

Dianthus 'Agatha' bloomed weakly, but again was surprised it bloomed at all since it was one of those planted just one month ago.

Dianthus 'Zing Rose' bloomed a deep red. This one was planted last month, so I guess they are going to be prolific bloomer. I can only hope.

One of the Echinacea 'Magnus' sent out a bloom. This one is commonly called the Purple Coneflower. The plant itself is still short, as it was planted last month, and has one flower on the very top.

One of my very favorite and most anticipated bulbs is the Iris. I planted 12 and several have bloomed this month. They are yellow and blue and look very nice.

Lamium 'White Nancy', groundcover, bloomed.

Set out a bunch of Marigolds, hoping to attract beneficial insects to combat caterpillars, etc that would mean destruction of my other plants, such as tomatoes and beans. None have bloomed yet.

Primrose 'Firecracker' opened a bright yellow flower on the last day of the month.

Deadheaded roses for the first time this year.

Salvia 'East friesland' bloomed.


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