Friday, October 30, 2009

Honest Scrap Award, Mother Nature Edition

Thanks to Rosey at Dung Hoe for honoring me with this award. That someone thinks I create things that are "brilliant in content or design" makes me feel proud and humble at the same time. The Honest Scrap Award Rules are simple to follow, and so here they are:
1. You must brag about the award.
2. You must include the name of the blogger who gave you the award and link back to that blogger.
3. You must choose a minimum of seven blogs that you find brilliant in content or design.
4. Show their names and links and leave a comment informing them that they were prized with this award.
5. List at least ten honest things about yourself.

Rather than telling you 10 things about myself, I am choosing to tell you about Mother Nature, since she is the ultimate designer of all things in nature. I love her deeply and want to help make her voice known. So here are things you may or may not know about her.

1. Please don't try to second guess me - if you took the age of every living thing on earth, and added them up, I would be millions of years older then the total. So, I think I might know a thing or two about how the earth is supposed to function and grow, and will teach you if you only stop and listen.

2. I live everywhere - from the tallest mountain to the lowest valley, from the hottest desert to the coldest oceans. Please be a nice guest in my house, or it could soon become inhospitable. I may have to ask you (not so politely) to leave.

3. I am happy to share my bounty with you, but I ask that you don't take advantage of my generosity. Rather, only take as much as you need, and leave some for the rest of the world and its offspring.

4. I love creepy crawlies, including snakes, spiders, beetles, and all of the other things that most people are afraid of. So the next time you think about squishing, poisoning, or otherwise getting rid of them please remember they are dear to my heart.

5. Although it is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, nothing artificial can compare to the magnificent sunsets, flowers, mountains, streams and animals that I have given you, so please treat them with care.

6. I am the original creator of diversity. Meadows, forests, oceans, and plains have thousands of inhabitants who all are part of a complex ecosystem working together. Monocultures have no place in my plans. You can learn allot about diversity simply by studying them.

7. The soil of the earth is made up of trillions of living, breathing organisms. Pick up a handful of nice, crumbly soil, and you are holding billions of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes. Not to mention worms, centipedes, ants, beetles, and other scavengers of the soil. Do you really want to destroy all that just by tilling?

8. I am a peace lover. There is nothing as peaceful as the sound of the waves, the silence of the star filled night sky, the breath of the cool breeze, or the sight of a flower slowly opening.

9. I am quick to cause destruction. Volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornados, floods, drought, wildfires all come quickly and many times without warning.

10. I am a lover of all things living. Please help all things live to their fullest potential. I will be forever thankful to you and reward you with beauty and bounty.

That's it. I hope that you have found many things to ponder in the list!

Finally, here are my 8 picks for blogs and bloggers I think deserve this award:

1. Susan Harris of Sustainable Gardening, Garden Rant, and for being unfaltering in her pursuit of educating gardens and others about sustainability.

2. The Galloping Gardener of Life in a Day for the beautiful and inspirational quotes and images she gives us.

3. Jean of Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog for continuing to try and convince us that she is just an "amateur" photographer, when we all know that she is anything but.

4. Diana from Elephant's Eye, who shows us what is like to garden in South Africa, and has such beautiful flowers.

5. Marie from 66 Square Feet for her combination of food, wine and gardens.

6. Nancy at Gardening Gone Wild for her photography skills and helping to put all the design contests together.

7. Robin at Garden Help for providing great help to vegetable gardeners.

8. Susan Tweit, a fellow Coloradan,  at Walking Nature Home for her truly inspiring journaling about life and nature.

Please don't feel like you have to participate, but I am looking forward to reading from those of you who do!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Earthworms are Nature's Best Rototillers

The end of gardening season means many fall clean up chores for gardeners. Yet, if you look around at the world of nature, there is no one cleaning up plant debris, tilling amendments into the soil, raking leaves or "putting the gardens" to bed. We can learn a lot from Mother Nature, and at the same time make our gardening chore list a lot shorter.

We as gardeners like to think that everything we do in the gardens to "help them" are a positive and necessary part of gardening. Sometimes misconceptions occur regarding what is best for the gardens. This is usually due to old or outdated research, wives tales, agricultural and gardening history, or fancy advertising and sales pitches. So, how much cleanup does a garden really need? Much less than you might think.

First, there is the question on whether or not to till a garden. My firm answer to that is "not on a yearly basis, if ever." Tilling the soil does much more harm than good, especially in an organic garden. Every time you till the soil, you destroy millions and millions of tiny organisms, air pockets, and soil structure. Not to mention worms, worm tunnels, and other beneficial insects that live beneath the crust of your soil. So, unless you are building a brand new garden and need to till in compost and/or amendments to initially enrich the soil, leave the rototiller in the shed. And, if you use the layering method of building a garden then you never have to till. Mother Nature never uses a rototiller, and look at how well everything grows in a forest or a meadow. Worms and other insects move the dead plant materials into the earth all by themselves, and they do a fantastic job at it.

You might be asking yourself, then why are fields and vegetable gardens tilled every year? The answer to that is because crops and veggies use up a lot of fertilizer and nutrients in order to produce abundant yields. So, over the years the farmers and backyard vegetable growers have replaced the depleted nutrients with lots of artificial fertilizers, killed the weeds with lots of artificial herbicides, and gotten rid of all the "pests" with lots of artificial insecticides. After doing all of this to the earth, there is little if any organic structure or "soil web" left. It is a vicious cycle, and takes time to heal. Since most people want yearly yields from their plots, more fertilizer is tilled into the soil, and the inorganic cycle continues.

Getting these gardens ready will mean taking out the hoops and cleaning out the plant material, that's it.

So, if you don't have to till, then how about the rest of the garden cleanup? Well, it depends on what type of garden and how pristine you think your gardens should look in the off season. Vegetable gardens should be cleaned out by removing dead plant material and putting it in the compost pile. If the plant is diseased, then you must either hot compost the plant, or put it in the trash. When you pull out the dead plants, try not to disturb the rest of the soil. That way, weed seeds don't have a chance to get embedded in the soil, and the topsoil does not blow away as easily. If you have some compost that is ready for the gardens, put a 2 to 3 inch layer on the top of the soil, and call it good. By springtime the compost's nutrients will be working their way down into the soil.

Annual flowers, both in pots and garden beds, should be pulled out and put in the compost pile. They have lived their short lives to the fullest, and now can give something back to the earth. If you have some self-seeding annuals that you want to leave, that's great. You can let the seeds fall over the winter, and then just take out the plant in the springtime.

Leaving the Avalanche Feather Reed grasses till springtime means stunning frosted blades and seed heads

Finally, perennials and ornamental grasses don't really need to be cut to the ground in the fall. Many of them look great with snow or frost, and many more will actually do better when not cut back until springtime. And a lot of their leaves will decompose over the winter, leaving nutrients on the soil to be carried underground by the many beneficial insects you hardly ever see. They include ants, worms, beetles, centipedes and millipedes, pillbugs and sowbugs, and springtails. By leaving "food" for them, you provide food for the soil and the earth.

The rudbeckia look great when left for the winter

So, before you sweep your gardens clean for the winter, think about maybe leaving some crumbs behind. Your gardens and plants will thank you in the springtime. And, you don't have to work so hard!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Climate Change belongs to all of us

This post is my contribution to help get the conversation going on Climate Change, which is this year's topic at Blog Action Day 2009, powered by Even if you don't believe that Climate Change is man-made, or that it even exists, we as human beings can still work together to help stop or reverse it.

Many people think that Climate Change is such a big issue that they can't make a difference. Well, even changing a few small things you do in the gardens can help to be kinder to the Earth and Mother Nature. There are millions, maybe even billions of people who call themselves "gardeners" here on earth. If each and every one of those people changed just one thing in how they garden, think of the profound effect it would make on helping to reduce global warming and environmental damage.  

That doesn't mean changing all of our gardening habits, just one each would be great. What would some of those things be? Things as simple as:
  • composting yard waste instead of putting it out to the trash,
  • watering your gardens and landscapes one less day per week or month,
  • watering only when and where your plants need it,
  • using soaker hoses or drip irrigation instead of sprinklers,
  • growing your own food (even a little) instead of buying it at the store,
  • leaving your grass clippings on the lawn instead of bagging them and putting them in the trash,
  • accepting that the perfect lawn, flower or garden does not need herbicides, pesticides, or artificial fertilizers,
  • using the rain that falls naturally from the sky to water your gardens instead of sending it down the sewers and into the streets, 
  • planting flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees that provide nectar for the pollinators of the planet,
  • most of all, remembering to reduce, reuse, recycle, and repurpose
So, what if you already do all of these things? Well, be proud of yourself, as you are being a good steward of the earth. And the most important thing you could do next would be to convince just one other person to garden as you do.  After all, gardeners help many things, including people, to grow.

If you would like to see the 1000s of bloggers who are participating in this year's Blog Action Day, you can go to the main website where there will be a live stream of all blog posts.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Canyonlands National Park - One of Mother Nature's Ultimate Rock Gardens

Mesa Arch in winter, with a rare snow

Mesa Arch in summer

This post is to help commemorate the garden bloggers' celebration of National Parks, put on by Pam at Digging.  Although I have been to many, many national parks, and live in Colorado where we have several of the most beautiful, I am choosing to show Canyonlands National Park, Utah, in both the summer and the winter, since it looks stunning and surreal in both seasons. 

Spires in summer, La Sal mountains barely visible in background

Spires in the winter, La Sal Mountains in background

The Canyonlands, Arches, and Moab areas in Utah are one of my favorite places to go. In fact, I am going there again towards the end of this week. The colors of the Canyonlands are constantly changing, and always awe inspiring. These pictures are from two trips in 2008, one at the end of May and one at the end of December. Both of those times of the year are considered to be "off season". One is "hotter than the face of the sun" and the other is "colder than a freezer", at least according to my family.

Jeep road around the "White Rim" of the canyon - someday I hope to take my jeep here!

Green river just visible at the bottom of the canyon - the Green River and the Colorado River both flow though here and join together at the confluence.

The flora and fauna found in each season are different from each other, and very tough in either case.  It takes a lot to be able to grow in the desert and the rocky canyons, where simply by stepping in the wrong place results in the death of the soil micro organisms for decades.  This special "soil" is called "Cryptobiotic soil" and is the life blood of the few plants that grow here.  It provides food and life for animals, insects, and reptiles. 

Erigeron and Cactus, spiny and beautiful

Claret Cup cactus

Mariposa Lily

Some sort of spiny cactus. I don't know the name, but will always remember the florescent pink blossoms

Native grasses under the snow at the top of the canyon.  To see snow here is a treat.

Starkly beautiful leafless tree on a path we took to the top of "Whale Rock"

Lizards of various types are a common site here in the summer months.

This is part of Newspaper Rock, which is just outside of the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park.  Petroglyphs show us wondrous clues to the past.  It's up to all of us to learn from their lessons.

Several layers of clothing required during our winter visit
Canyonlands National Park is one of the least visited of the national parks in Utah. It is divided into 3 sections, none of which are connected to the other. Most people go there as park of bus tours of the parks, and never hike farther than the "points of interest". You could spend weeks in Canyonlands, and see very few people. When we were there in December, we saw less than 100 people. Summer was a bit busier, but still not "crowded". We also went to Arches National Park, and other parts of the Moab area, but those places are for another post.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Early Death of Fall

Fall has come and gone in my gardens.  It lasted a whole 2 weeks.  Yesterday was our second snow, and this morning the ground was still white and it was in the upper 20s.  Normally, the temps here this time of year are in the upper 60's, with lows in the upper 30's.  By tomorrow evening, it will be 17 degrees. That's a normal for January, not October. With lows like that, all the plants will succumb to the cold.  No amount of plastic sheeting or blanketing will help my tomatoes from freezing.

I can't complain too much - last year we had an amazingly long and beautiful fall season, and I'm sure that by next week it will be warm and sunny here again.  But the leaves on the trees will probably just fall off, instead of producing great colors, and the perennials that still are blooming are probably more than done for the year.  The unpredictability of gardening is one of the main reasons I love to garden, as I think experiments are great and Mother Nature provides us with the biggest laboratory of all. 

Coneflower blossoms will be gone, but their seedheads will stick around to feed the birds

Agastaches and Asters taking a bow under the snow

Dogwood leaves frozen in time

Frosty bridge over the dry stream bed

Aspen leaves falling before their time to shine

As you can see from the pictures, today was dark and dreary, and so I'm sorry if the colors are a little off.  It's hard to capture the snow and fog while still having bright results.  And maybe the darkness of the pictures is just a little reminder that winter slumber is part of the life cycle of all plants.  It sometimes just comes way too soon.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Well Diversified Garden, or Who Needs a Lawn Anyway?

Waterwise gardens thrive above 7000' in Colorado - no lawn here

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

Take a drive around almost any neighborhood in the USA, and you’ll see the same thing. Yards are all green and boring, each having a nicely mown lawn, a few shrubs, some juniper or other pine trees, a nice ornamental tree or two and some petunias or other annuals for color. Then every once in a while your eyes will be drawn to a yard that is different – and it’s easy to see why – it has many types of flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees with a small but functional area given to grass. These two types of yards are different in many ways, with the first relying on us to take care of it, and the second taking care of itself.

Permeable pathways that are criss-crossed with thymes and veronicas keep out weeds and let air, water, and nutrients get to the plants roots

The first type of yard represents a monoculture of plants, while the second has diversity. A monoculture exists when the same type of plant is used extensively in a given space, whether that is a garden, a yard, a neighborhood or a city. It’s kind of like putting all of your money into one stock. When the stock is performing well, life’s good. But when the stock tanks you potentially lose everything. The plant kingdom is the same.

Lodgepole Pine forests turned red with dead trees from pine beetles above Dillon Reservoir, Colorado

Plant hundreds or thousands of the same type of tree, and if a pest or disease comes along that is specific to that tree, all the trees you planted will die. The deadly plight of the Elms in the East and Midwest, and the Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pines in the Rocky Mountains are great examples. Millions of Kentucky Blue Grass lawns suffer every year from pests and diseases that thrive in the monoculture that is the American lawn. So, to keep them looking perfect we rely on lots of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides and reach for the “bug spray” whenever a blade of grass is inflicted with something.

A functional and recreational bit of non-irrigated lawn, Turf-Type Tall Fescue under Ponderosa Pines

What makes a diversified garden/yard better than a monoculture? There are many things – sustainability, pest and disease resistance, providing food for many types of insects, birds, wildlife and people, feeding the “soil web”, better use of water resources, and little to no dependence on fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides.

Waterwise gardens are far easier to take care of on a slope than trying to mow grass!

Designing a well diversified garden is easier than you might think, and costs less in the long run than large swaths of green grass. Most importantly, a diversity of plants is much better for you, your neighborhood and the planet. Having many different plants does not just mean throwing a bunch of them together and calling it a garden.

Gardens like these are packed with perennials, groundcovers and herbs, so no room for weeds

As with all the best garden designs, planning before planting is one of the most important things you need. You need to choose plants that encourage pollinators, provide food and shelter for beneficial insects, and cover the ground with living mulch that prevents weeds. Beneficial insects and pollinators are extremely important inhabitants of a well diversified garden, because they take care of most other problems. In our world where 96% of the insects are either beneficial or benign it makes no sense to spray insecticides to eliminate pests, when the “good bugs” are always hungry for supper!

Planting for pollinators of all types helps to ensure flowers provide lots of food, even when you don't have full sun.

When designing your garden or yard it’s important to have enough different types of plants to help control pests, provide food, and still be beautiful. For each plant you want to include in your garden, ask yourself 4 things: 1) Does the plant provide food, shelter, or pollen? 2) Does the plant have natural resistance to pests and/or diseases? 3) Does the plant provide more than one season of interest? 4) Can the plant thrive without lots of supplemental water once it is established? If you answered “yes” for at least 3 of these questions, consider the plant for your garden or yard. If not, move on to the next plant. There are literally thousands of plants that will have “yes” answers and will grow in our planting zones, so take the time to seek them out and plant them! Who knows, you might not even miss that sea of green that was once your front lawn.

A small, shady section of my lawn-less front yard

For more information on lawn alternatives, drop by the Lawn website and check out what you can do to help change our love affair with the American lawn.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Fall Colors mean more than Aspens in Mountain Gardens

Here are some shots of beautiful fall colors in my gardens so that you don't think the only great colors come from Aspens in the fall.  Our Aspens in the yard, of which I personally would love to get rid of, have not yet turned color, but there are Gambel (scrub) oaks, lilacs, sumac, chokecherry and other plants which all have fabulous shades, and there are still some blooms on late summer and fall perennials as well.  Another week or so and there will be even better colors along the Front Range of Colorado.  In my opinion, the fall leaves in the Rocky Mountains are no where near as colorful though as those on the East Coast and the Midwest, so those of you who live there should feel very lucky this time of year.  Happy leaf peeping!

I end the pictures with this lovely Northern Flicker, who loves to climb the Ponderosa pines, and look for food all year long.
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