Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Beautiful Native Grasses in Unexpected Places

Bighorn Sheep eating native grasses in Canyonlands National Park, Utah

This month's Picture This Photo Contest at Gardening Gone Wild was on Ornamental Grasses.  I didn't enter, mostly because I have never entered a contest there yet, and so I wasn't sure what it all required.  My friend Jean at Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog had a great post on Grasses in the Wild with beautiful pictures of native grasses in Texas.  She wanted to see what some of the natives around here look like.  I don't have many pictures of the grasses in my neighborhood, and couldn't take any today because it was snowing all day long (yes, it is only the second day of fall).  So, here are some native grasses in unusual and beautiful places that I have traveled to in Colorado and Utah.  Enjoy.

Switch Grass in Stream, Castlewood Canyon State Park, CO

High alpine meadow grasses along Peru Creek, Montezuma, CO

Native grasses growing in the dunes, Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO

Native grasses in my back yard after a snow in fall

So, my question to all of you:  which do you think are most beautiful - ornamental grasses that we plant, or native grasses that we happen upon.  In my book, Mother Nature knows best!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In Defense of Flower Gardens

Ok, I have to say it, I like flower gardening better than vegetable gardening.  There, I know that is not the popular thing to say this year, but it's the truth.  I completely agree that homegrown produce is better for you and the environment, and I love the taste of fresh fruit and vegetables.  It's not even that I don't like vegetable gardening, but when you only have a growing season that's sometimes shorter than summer break, it can get old fast.  Even with season extenders, it just does not seem to get warm enough at my house to produce good quality veggies.  That, and the fact that I have no full sun in my yard makes it hard to get beans, cucumbers, peppers, and squash to want to do much.  Sure, I have plenty of tomatoes on my plants, all still green of course, but I have to keep them warm by using hoops and plastic.  And lettuce and other greens grow very nicely here, but if your family only likes romaine, bibb and worst of all, iceberg, what is the point of growing all the other great kinds.  You know, the ones with flavor?  I love to watch the plants grow from seed, and I really like to eat the peas from the vine, but I still love my perennials, groundcovers, native grasses and herbs more. 

My perennial flower gardens are pretty most of the time, don't need much maintenance since I garden organically, and provide food, shelter, and beauty for all things in nature, including me. I choose perennials that like to grow in my conditions, don't need much in the way of water, and don't take over other plants. 

Groundcovers are used as mulch. I have no automatic irrigation, but use recycled soaker hoses to water the bases of the plants. By only watering the plants when necessary, and not spraying water around, the weeds don't sprout.  I hardly ever weed.  No one believes that, but it's true anyway. If I do see a weed, I pluck it when it is little, but never spray.  The snakes in the yard help get rid of the voles, grasshoppers, and other "bad" bugs, and the bat that hangs above the front door every night gets rid of the mosquitoes.

So next year, when everyone is still extolling the wonders of vegetable gardening, I will happily watch my flowers, grasses, herbs, and groundcovers grow. And then patiently wait for my vegetable gardens to produce more than they did this year.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Waste Not, Want Not – Creating Gardens and Landscapes that Make Best Use of Rainwater

The article below was originally written by me and published in the July 2009 Edition of Our Community News.

“Water Restrictions”, “Long-term Drought”, “Rate Increases”. These phrases all refer to our water usage, and our responsibility to use water wisely. According to the Colorado State University Extension, landscape irrigation, which includes the watering of lawns, trees, shrubs, and gardens, accounts for approximately 50% of our overall water usage. Yet, there are some very simple, legal ways to cut down on irrigation costs, use of treated water, and unnecessary runoff while still having green lawns, healthy trees and shrubs, and lots of flowers in our gardens.

Before we get into the details, it’s important to note that in Colorado, it’s illegal for most homeowners to collect rainwater to store for future use. Utah is the only state besides Colorado that does not allow homeowners to collect rain that falls on their property. The laws regarding rainwater storage go back many decades, and are in place to protect the senior water rights owned by farmers, land owners, and even states. Currently, these laws are being re-evaluated to determine if they should be changed. In fact, Governor Ritter just signed into law Senate Bill 09-80 allowing residents who are not connected to a municipal water source to collect water from their rooftops. This law took effect on July 1, 2009. There are several requirements to meet, and you must apply for a permit specifying how you will implement your rainwater collection method. If you have a well permit and are interested in more information, please go to the Colorado Government website and checkout Colorado Rain Water Bill on what the bill means to you.

So, if we can’t collect rainwater, how do we make the best use of it? There are several ways, the simplest being to divert it into your planting beds, tree and shrub areas, and lawns. This way the rain seeps slowly into the ground before leaving your property, instead of gushing into the sewers and drainage ditches, where it can cause flooding and erosion, and carry excess fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides with it.

Let’s look at two simple ways to divert the water and design the gardens. First, you need to know your property, and how the water currently flows during a rain storm. Along the Front Range, we tend to get lots of rain in a short amount of time. This type of rain needs to be slowed down in order to make good use of it. Otherwise, it just runs right off the property. Water runs fastest in a straight line. First, watch when and where the rain flows. Then consider adding curved pathways, winding dry steam beds, depressions around garden areas, or rocks/boulders and small berms perpendicular to the flow. These will all slow down the rainwater a bit and allow it to be absorbed into the adjoining areas. Finally, plan your plantings to border these channels, and you will get extra blooms, healthier plants, and less pests and diseases.

Another simple way to use the rainwater is to direct your downspouts towards your gardens, trees, and shrubs. You can do this by using extender pipes, French Drains, dry stream beds, or gravel paths. The important thing to remember is that you still need the water to drain away from the house. Also, don’t divert this water to vegetable or herb gardens, since the water from the roofing materials may contain chemicals, high concentrations of pollution, or other unknown contaminants.

When choosing plants to take advantage of the extra water, you need to think of those that are adaptable to both wet and dry conditions. A high water needs plant will not do well in this case, because there will be periods of time when there is no water available. There are whole books devoted to gardens called “rain gardens” which use and filter the water that falls from the sky. By Googling “rain gardens”, “rainwater harvesting” or “bioswales” you will come up with lots of relevant information. Rainwater is precious, free, pure, and is worth every drop, so make good use of it!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Colorado Springs Celebrates Local Food Week

This post is slightly off-topic for the blog, but important none the less, since it celebrates locally grown food and naturally processed fruits, vegetables, herbs, meats and crafts. Colorado Springs is holding its first annual "Local Food Week". The week long series of events start Monday September 14th, and run through Sunday, September 20th. It is sponsored by the Peak to Plains Alliance, and headed by Michele Mukatis, owner of Cultivate Health. A great article describing the events of the week can be found in this article posted at the Colorado Springs Gazette.  More information on the Peak to Plains Alliance and other local food organizations that are participating can be found here.  So, if you are local to the Colorado Springs area, please take some time next week to eat great local food and support our local growers and producers!  Classes, lectures, and other learning opportunities will also be available, so check the calender for more information.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

For the Birds

We have had so many birds in our yard this year, from large, white-tail hawks now in their 3rd mating season, to tiny ruby throated hummingbirds, who drink endlessly from the flowers and the hummingbird feeders.

Being in the Rocky Mountains, we have lots of migrating birds, and also birds that enjoy life on both sides of the Continental Divide. For example, the image above of the Blue Jays at one of the bird baths show both the Mountain Blue Jay and the Common (Eastern) Blue Jay. There are Chickadees and Mountain Chickadees, Nuthatches and Mountain Nuthatches, Eastern Blue Birds and Western Blue Birds, and many types of Finches. Juncos join in the group by eating the left-overs from the ground.

All the birds but the hummers are fed the same food - Black Oil Sunflower Seeds. Although you can't tell from the picture, the bird feeder hangs 20 feet in the air, suspended by a pulley and wire system going from a 40' Ponderosa Pine to the second floor of the house. The squirrels cannot get to this feeder no matter how they try. Every once in a while a baby squirrel will try to be brave and tight walk across the wire, only to fall 20' to the ground and run away.

The birds come to our yard from all over to eat, where they mostly enjoy seed heads from the Coneflowers, nectar from the many Agastache, Salvia, Penstemon, Red-Birds-in-a-Tree, Yarrows and other waterwise, western perennials. No pesticides, herbicides or artificial fertilizers are used in the yard so the birds can eat safely.

The more than 8 types of woodpeckers find food in the Ponderosa Pines and the Gambel Oak trees. During the winter they eat from several suet feeders hung around the house on the hanging basket hooks.

Some of the birds that show up in our yard are not so welcome. We have many Magpies which steal dog food, make messes, and are very loud. The crows, ravens, and black birds could also leave without me missing them. I could easily do without having them around, but they are part of nature too, so I guess they should be allowed to stay.

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