Monday, August 31, 2009

Toughing up the Turf


It is finally time to start planting my new lawn. Be gone with you water-greedy St Augustine grass! There's a tougher act coming to town that will leave you in the literal dust - sedges.

Sedges (Carex spp.) are wonderful plants. They are perennials that resemble grass, but don't have the heavy growing requirements that many of our grasses are bred to demand. The sedge I chose for my front yard is a native Texan that is able to grow in shade with limited water. I have interplanted it with some variegated liriope that I moved from a flower bed. The combination of dark green and the white margins of the liriope should be pretty amazing. I might throw in some red Oxalis lasiandra just to punch it up a bit. If I do it right it will look like one of Grandma Clemmy's or Linda's quilts.

The best thing about it is that it will look great all year round and I won't have to mow it, fertilize it, edge it, thatch it, rake it, aerate it, water it, or procrastinate about it. I can walk all over it, park my lawn chair on it, spill beer on it, and generally sit and wave at the neighbors as they slog it out in the heat slaving over their lawn. Oh yeah, I'm likin' this sedge more and more.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Slow Going But Progress Being Made

It is so HOT! We are now into 60 something days of 100 degree heat. Only 45 more to go!

It is very frustrating to have beautiful sunshine outside but be stuck in the house. My DNA just isn't programmed for this. As a native Oregonian, I am conditioned to surge outside when it is not raining. Wearing a hat, soaking my clothes, taking shade breaks, staying hydrated, nothing works. I simply can't take the heat and have to go inside when it hits the century mark. If I push it too hard I get sick. You can't drink enough water to replace all the sweat that just pours out of your pores.

But despite all that, progress is being made. Ed has only two more planting bed boxes to go. The fence pile is now just a stack of boards. I've got two of the beds planted. The rest are just waiting for me to fill them with soil. I'm composting as fast as I can with the help of the neighbors yard debris. My goal is to get them all filled by early spring, even if I have to buy some soil.
From Yard makeover

Today I scored at the local nursery. They are having a summer heat distress sale and I picked up a whole pickup load of plants. I've installed some grasses in the front yard, roses in the back, and more importantly, herbs in the herb bed. We haven't had any new rain, but I'm still able to water everything out of my rainwater tank. I'm very pleased with myself.
From Yard makeover

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Integrated Pest Management - with chocolate sauce!


This week's Master Gardener class was on entomology. It was a lot different from all the other bug classes I have taken in the past, and the reason was the de-emphasis of chemical control.

As a former card-carrying pesticide applicator licensee, I'm glad of it. It just amazes me a bit considering that Master Gardening is a program affiliated with the land grant university system. None of my professors or extension agents from Oregon State University would have even dared suggest row covers or manually picking caterpillars off of crops twenty years ago.

We learned about all kinds of insects; what they looked like, how they derived nourishment, and how to control them in the environment. "Natural" chemicals were discussed, like Neem, as well as soapy water and beneficial insects. We even talked about the type of plants to have in the garden like fennel, dill and milkweed, to serve as hosts for beneficials.

What was interesting about the discussion was the reaction of some of my fellow classmates. These are all gardeners who battle it out with nature every day. Many of them were exasperated and demoralized from losing a war against squash borers, scale, cucumber beetles, or fire ants. They kept pressing for the "good stuff" to use to eliminate these pests. To her credit, our extension agent instructor was fair to chemicals, but kept bringing us back to how the pest lives and how to interrupt it's life cycle in non petroleum product ways. I appreciated this approach. We pour so many poisons into our environment and ultimately our bodies, which is the main reason I decided to go organic.

This holistic approach is called Integrated Pest Management. It's the blending of all effective, economical, and environmentally sound pest control methods into a single but flexible approach to pest control. This includes modifying cultural practices (like crop rotation), using mechanical instead of chemical methods (like pruning), biological, and physical manipulations (like row covers.)

To demonstrate her point, the instructor brought us a treat; chocolate covered crickets. You know I can't resist chocolate, so I tried one. The chocolate was pretty good and the cricket gave it kind of a rice crispy crunch. Now that's a pest management program I can really get behind!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A good idea taken too far.

It was another hot day here in Austin and we had worked in the yard until 11:30 am. Ed built me two more boxes for my raised beds and I prepped a pile of brush so it can be chipped tomorrow. After a quick shower and lunch we headed out to buy groceries. It was 2:30 pm before we got back home and settled. Nap time.

Except it is so freakin hot. We are trying to save on electricity so it's over 85 degrees in the house. Ed wanted to take a nap but couldn't find a cool place to lay down. Then he had a genius idea. Take a cool bath.

We have that awesome tub, after all. Just the perfect size to soak in. We haven't used it much because it's not exactly hot bath weather. Ed turned on the cold water and filled the tub. The cold water is not actually cold. It comes through miles of hot ground, into a water tower, and then through our hot pipes under the house. It's tepid at best - but hey, that's good enough for an overheated human. While laying in the water he had another genius idea. Instead of draining the water out of the tub, bail it out and use it to water the yard!

Of course, I had to have a soak too. Once we both were dried off we set to bailing the water. Luckily the bathroom opens to the patio, so we brought in one of the garbage cans and poured the bath water into it. First we used a white bucket, then Ed got out a Rubbermaid and used it. When we finished I had to mop because the bathroom was a mess and the tub had dirt in it from the white bucket.


Trouble is, all that bailing and cleaning made us hot again. So much for water reclamation. The plants are just going to have to wait for rain.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Water Greed

I cannot emphasize how excited I am over my rainwater harvesting system. We got some rain the other day and my tank is 40% full! I am now using rainwater to hand irrigate parts of my garden. This is a big deal because water is so expensive here in Austin. They double the rates during the summer time to encourage people to conserve. Even the regular rate is way more than we paid in Springfield, Oregon. Not only that, but the water comes from a limestone aquifer which creates a higher pH than plants like. After years of living in the acid soils of the Willamette Valley, it seems bizarre to live in an area that has the opposite problem.

When Innovative Water Solutions installed our system, they tied in every downspout except for one. The very front of the house drained into a downspout that would have just poured water into my driveway. Oh, I don't think so. Even with my ditch works that water would just go to waste. Solution: get a rain barrel.

But you know what? That wasn't so easy. There is not a lot of selection for rain barrels. Most stores carry only one kind, if any, and they aren't very big - only 50 gallons or so. That means that I would have to link two or three together. We broke down and bought two at Home Depot, but they were poorly configured and we would have to retrofit them to get them to drain properly. I could have ordered some better designed containers on-line, but it is expensive to have them shipped. I considered just using a big garbage can, but they aren't sturdy enough to handle the holes that would have to be cut into them for the plumbing. There has to be a way to tie the gutter into the top, and then a tap has to be installed near the bottom to hook the hose to. It also needs to have an overflow hole.

Lucky for us, our friend Blake at Innovative Water Solutions came to the rescue again. The rainwater tanks they use are purchased locally here in Austin. Triple S Feeds carries water storage tanks of all sizes. We jumped in the Mazda and headed south. What a treat it was to go there! It is in a completely out of the way location past the airport and out in the country side. It is really nothing more than a family's barn converted into a feed store. It's located in a hot and dry area that reminded me a lot of Sam's Valley. (I kept expecting to see Kent Bigham wheel up in that big old pickup truck he used to drive.) As soon as I walked into the place I was engulfed in that wonderful smell that only feed stores have. What is it exactly? The mineral blocks? The molasses laced grain mash? The leather goods? The hay and straw stacked up nearby? It had a wooden floor and all kinds of wonderful things stacked up on the shelves. Oh, I just ached with longing and it took everything I had not to fondle every piece of merchandise. Ed and I just looked at each other and sighed.

But! On to the business at hand! These people have serious water tank inventory (and feed racks, and big old water troughs, and fencing. Focus Sheryl! Focus!) We found an exact replica of our rainwater tank, except that it is 319 versus 2500 gallon version. We strapped that dude in the back of the bed and headed on back to civilization.

Ed did a really good job of getting it plumbed in.
From Yard makeover
Once it starts to rain again and I see how much water we collect, I may rig a garbage can to catch the overflow. I can dip my watering can into it or maybe rig a siphon to water my plants in the patio. Or, what if I dug a pond, or rigged up a big water feature, or had a giant compost tea vat? Hmm, see what greed does?