Saturday, January 29, 2011

Check List for Late Winter

There are several things that need to be done over the next three to four weeks. Planning now will help space out work over a reasonable amount of time.  The items on this list are time sensitive and very necessary for spring fruit set, and prevention of disease.

The following schedule will give good general guidelines to plan your late winter preparations.  Keep in mind that this is for Zone 5 people.  Lower zones will bump all of this back at least two to three weeks. In the case of warmer climates you could be gardening already (For my readers in Malaysia - Wow you probably garden tomatoes all year?)

NOW:  Water all trees and shrubs.   Slow soak as soon as possible whenever weather permits.

February 1-15   Dormant fruit tree spray.  Get good coverage top to bottom and around the entire tree.  Apply according to the directions on the label.

February 7-20  Phosphorus application.

February 20-March 5   Fruit tree prune.  Each tree has it's own needs.  Here are two articles to help with some guidelines and instructions on how to prune:

Cherries and Pears just need to be opened up so that air will penetrate the canopy.  Take out about one third of the inner branches.

March 1  Water all trees and shrubs.  Water Bamboos if you have them.

March 1-15 Dunk mushroom logs.  Soak in a large bucket thirty minutes minimum per end.

March 15-22 Incorporate mulch into garden soil. Incorporate burn and return mix.  Incorporate dead leaf litter and whatever peat or coffee grounds you need for amendment.  Manure now if you use it.

March 22-30 Mulch coffee grounds around berries and brambles.  Renovate berries and brambles.

April  1-15 Prep garden beds and plant cold weather species.  If you live in a zone higher than 5 you should be pretty much all planted and gardening fully.

May 28 booty sock young set fruit.

If you have any additions or ideas please feel free to add them in the comments below.

Food security and beauty are an excellent mix.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Burn and Return.

I have a large fire pit that is used as an integral part of my yard renewal.  My fire pit is pictured here:

This fire pit was hand welded by myself about two years ago.  The Chinese symbols for longevity, and wisdom coupled with the knots at the ends of the fire pit tie together the elements from my front yard including the engraved granite seasons patio and my sunset gold bamboo.  The fire pit is about ten feet long and fifteen inches across at the top and is supported by a single iron strut embedded in a four foot deep hole incased with concrete.  This allows the pit to 'float' above my patio at a height of about six inches eliminating tripping hazards and giving it a very cool look.  It is very heavy duty constructed of 8 ga. steel and is able to support an entire cut log or about fifty lbs. of charcoal.  Barbecuing meat can be done as well as open fire evenings on the patio in early spring or late fall with the pit warming the entire patio. 

I burn most of my dead and dry material from my yard in this pit.  I burn pruned tree branches, rose stalks, leaf litter, and even dog bones that my pet has finished.  

The ash from this pit is a rich source of minerals - mainly phosphorus - essential for my garden spaces.  But if I directly apply this to my soil I will drastically increase the alkalinity which creates a different problem.  

The solution:  Burn and Return

Collect your ashes into five gallon buckets.  

This next part is for those of you who are not squeamish.....

Pee on them.  Pee on them fifteen to twenty times per batch.  

The uric acid will balance the harsh alkaloids and the nitrogen in human urine will bind nicely into the ash completing it as a high potency fertilizer.  

After this process has been completed you will want to mix this concoction 5-1 with a compost or with your coffee grounds.  

Let this sit for about two weeks then mix into your garden beds especially around the tomatoes.    The nitrogen will support plant growth and because it is bound in the ash it will release more slowly and last longer than a chemical fertilizer.  The phosphorus will boost blossoms and encourage large crops.  

Try 'Burn and Return' and let me know what you think. 

P.S. If you would like a custom fire pit I would be willing to ship just about anywhere in the world!  Just let me know what you are thinking and if I can help I would be glad to make you one.  Compensation would depend on what you want and how long it would take me to make it. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Booty Sock Bounty

The battle against codling moth and other fruit boring, chomping, egg-laying and otherwise destructive insects leads people to do some pretty extreme things including spraying pesticides repeatedly throughout the summer disrupting the predator/prey balance, and introducing chemicals into a gardeners personal food supply. If you choose to use hormone traps and spray once this works well with one problem......if your timing is off.

I have a solution for all larger fruit which recycles a readily available resource and will protect your apples, pears, plumbs, peaches, quinces and all other tree fruits from the ravages of insects.

The answer:  Booty Socks

The booty sock is the little sock that shoe stores provide to their customers for trying on shoes.  They are disposable and are thus thrown away - by the hundreds - every day. 

Just like the rules for coffee grounds you want to start setting up your supply now in preparation for spring.  When dealing with booty sock suppliers also use discretion and be polite. I have had some store managers who don't get it and react almost violently to my asking (they probably suspect some nefarious purpose.  Like I could even pull on of those things over my head to hold up a convenience store!)

After acquiring several hundred wash them all at once using a sterilizing laundry soap. 

You will need:

one booty sock per fruit per tree
one orthodontic braces rubber band per booty sock

Slip the rubber band over the young fruit just after it has set.  Slide the booty sock over the fruit next then roll the sock into the rubber band to create a firm roll-up seal.  The result is an expanding fine mesh net that keeps the moths from laying eggs and allows the fruit enough sun and air circulation to develop properly.

No chemical spraying or expensive traps or extension agents necessary. 

Best of all it's FREE!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Drifting Through Winter

When planning layout and design for the placement of a landscape in a zone where winter brings wind and snow it is possible to make your winter easier by saving  time and effort shoveling and have the added benefit of directing moisture directly to the plants that need them  through what I call "perennial drift control".

In order to understand the basics of how this system works it might be helpful for me to define a few terms and explain how snow drifts.  Some people will find that they may have never paid much attention to the details of exactly how snow drifts but with a little practice and an understanding of some aerodynamic principles you will be able to create your own solutions for drifting snow so that this valuable water resource is used to it's highest potential.

The first two important terms are "windward," and "leeward."  Those of you who have sailed before will know these words well, but let me go ahead and give the brief explanation.  Windward is the word used to designate the side of an object that is facing directly into the oncoming wind as illustrated below.  This will change depending on the direction of wind in your location but here in Greeley the wind almost always is a westerly (originating in the west blowing toward the east).  This piece of information is very important to observe and to gather data on because this is how you will build your perennial drift control.

Leeward is the term used to designate the side of an object shielded from the wind.  In the above drawing the leeward side of a wall creates a pocket of slower more turbulent air.

My yard has a very peculiar orientation in relation to the average direction of incoming winds.  The neighborhood is aligned in a  way that westerly winds blow directly down the street in the front of my house and are funneled into MY front yard which sits at a bend in the road.  This bend has the effect of creating wind vertices that my son lovingly refers to as the "trash vortex".  What essentially happens is that all debris picked up from civilization West of my home gets swept down the funnel into a swirling turbulence of winds that place the materials directly into my NE window well.  I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I have had the pleasure of cleaning everything from unopened mail to a child's plastic swimming pool from my NE window well (the wind actually folded it and crammed it down into the window well cavity.)

What is it that makes the Trash Vortex relevant to drift control?  Well the very same effect that carries trash into my window well also carries vast quantities of snow into my driveway, yard, and yes...window well. The solution lies in not stopping snow but instead creating a drift that is where we want it to use the moisture from the snow where it is needed and to leave pathways, driveways, gates, and doors as clear as possible from snow drifts.

This strategy actually assists with a more natural aesthetic placement of plants.  The result is a beautiful yard however, the placement of that new serviceberry will not be in a Victorian style hedgerow.  What you will have is a naturalized space with good use of a three story layering which makes shoveling easier and your trees healthier.

The first step is to notice where snow already drifts in your yard and make an evaluation of whether the drifts are:
1. In the way.
2. Currently the result of another plant initiating the drift.
3. Providing moisture to a perennial.
4. Causing structural concerns to a home, barn, shed, open garage.
5. A high drift settling in from the top of a hill, mountain, or building.

In the case of the fifth descriptor, there is really nothing that can be done to redirect the snow. The snow is slowing as the wind is blocked by the object such as a building and will inevitably settle in these spots.  This problem will create a heavier build up and a dome shaped drift in the leeward side of the object. Look at the illustration below.  This situation can be used to your advantage by planting a deciduous perennial (fruiting) shrub or tree square in the middle of where the drift occurs.  The result is that melting snow will provide slow soak moisture to the perennial. The amount of moisture will be roughly about one inch of water for every ten inches of snow depth.

In the case of the first and fourth descriptors you will want to prioritize your next plantings to fix the problem.  A drift that crosses a sidewalk or driveway can be greatly reduced by planting low growing dense hedges or shrubs such as Nanking Cherry or a Hazelnut bush windward of the path or  structure to slow the driving snow so that the drift shadows the shrubs instead of advancing onto the pathway.  Cold hardy clumps of bamboo can augment the shrubbery as well as pampas grasses.  The grasses are not edible but make good companion plants for the edible shrubs if planted windward of them to reduce dessication from driving winter winds.  These can also be used to cause drifting before the wind drives snow against a structure.

One of the most interesting uses of perennial drift control is to direct moisture where it is needed.  Causing large piles of snow to accumulate at the leaf-line of a tree or pile up around fruiting shrubs is actually a pretty easy process and can be accomplished in a variety of creative ways. Primarily what you want to do is to slow the air.  Use perennial fruiting shrubs, and strategically placed boulders.  Place them on the windward side of the place that you want drifting to occur.  The only other consideration is distance.  Remember that the distance should allow for the snow to build up in a place that stores snow for use as it melts.

This technique requires some long term observation and perhaps pictures or note taking as the winter months happen.  If you consider your placement with this variable in mind you will save time, money and plants next winter.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Starbucks Symbiosis for Garden Greenery

Why should you be going to you local coffee shop?  Well, beyond the need for a caffeinated hot beverage to ward off winter chill, you should be going for the FREE coffee grounds to perk up your garden.

Why use coffee grounds?  Because they are rich in Nitrogen, they acidify soil (essential in Colorado where the soil and water are so basic that blueberries cannot thrive without serious amendment), they encourage worm migration into the area being mulched, they add organic matter to the soil, they are pre-shredded, as mulch they look great, and best of all they are FREE!

Map out a route to collect from multiple coffee shops in a single day to make the trip economically beneficial.  My route is planned so that I add no extra distance to my after work pick up the kids and head home circuit that happens at the end of the day.  In this modified course I am able to visit seven coffee houses (five of which are Starbucks).  You will need to retrain your baristas to save the grounds and to double bag them for you and this may take a week or so of consistent visits but they will be happy to let you have what you need if you are kind, polite and discreet.  (don't shout "THANKS FOR THE GROUNDS!!" while slinging a leaky bag over your shoulder and heading out)

Why now in the winter time??? This is the most obvious question that I am asked by the coffee house employees.  The answer is more subtle than "got nothin better to do..."  In fact the grounds can be applied to areas when the snow is melted and the freeze/thaw cycles will help to start incorporating and breaking down the particles into the soil amending it naturally and prepping it for the upcoming season.  If your ground is completely coated in snow then save the bags by stacking them in a corner.  They will freeze and keep nicely until the thaw giving you time to accumulate enough to mulch with. 

This brings us to the question: How much do you need?  This varies depending on many variables but I have found that a nice sized bag with about twenty lbs of wet grounds will mulch about two square feet to a depth of an inch and a half.  This means that I will need to collect six such bags every day for the following month or so in order to mulch my strawberry beds, around my hardy kiwi, in my blueberry containers, and in the annual beds in the front of my house.  (about two cubic yards)

Berry plants of most any variety prefer neutral to slightly acidic soil even those that are tolerant of more basic soil types and low growing berries such as strawberries, emerald carpet, wintergreen, and cranberries additionally benefit from the fact that slugs hate the coarseness and caffeine compounds in the coffee grounds.

They can be used to 'green' up your compost pile in a fall build up of brown carbon materials, and they replenish many trace minerals into the soil as they decay.  Some people like to add water to the grounds in a bucket and let them steep for about a day and then pour the phase II coffee  directly onto the plants such as fruit trees for a gentle nitrogen boost.  I have found that more than anything this technique neutralizes the alkalinity of my water before giving it to sensitive plants such as blueberries.

Where not to use them? Use them sparingly in your general raised beds or anywhere the plants prefer an alkaline soil.  Cabbages, broccoli, and other leafy cool weather greens do not like the acidity.  If using them as mulch like I am I have heard that some people like to add dry crushed leaves to break up the tendency of the grounds to cake up and form a crust.  (I don't worry about this as it helps with weed control.)

Even if you don't drink coffee, remember that this is an excellent resource that will become landfill if not leveraged for your own use in the garden.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Micro Climates

The past ten days have delivered a cold spell here in Greeley which have allowed me to conduct a study of my yard in the infra-red spectrum.  I have been venturing out with a laser point infrared thermometer and measuring the temperatures of key areas in my landscape during the daily light cycle during the shortest days of the season in order to find out exactly what climates are present.  I recorded the temperatures on south facing walls, near the foundation, and on the north side of the property in the shade in order to start understanding my property in greater detail.

This is what I learned:

1.  I have several micro-climates that will maintain a soil temperature of 25 degrees F even during -2 F night temps.

2.  There are some places around my foundation which supported live red onions all of the way until the 27th of December.  This was possible despite 20 degree temperatures and severe winds.

3.  The thermal mass from a south facing wall in my back yard is sufficient to warm nearby soil to melt snow even into the evening during sustained cold temperatures below 20 F.

So, what do I plan to do with this knowledge?  I want to run an experiment with a Fig tree in the warmest micro-climate.  I believe that it might take as much as three years to get to the point where it will yield however, I am patient and the addition of figs to my edible landscape will be fantastic!!

You could do a similar experiment with an infrared thermometer. There is still time in the dark winter season to find the temperature differentials of the micro-climates in your outdoor space.  You might find miniature zones as much as two gradients higher lurking somewhere that could be used to plant that exotic that no-one knew was possible.