Saturday, June 25, 2011

no internet

We lost internet yesterday and may not get it back up until next week.  Hours on the phone to ATT.  So frustrating.  And I don't even like being on the computer that much, but what's a gardener to do when it's  mid 90's outside and so humid you can dish out the air with a spoon?  That's when I like to retreat inside with a cool drink (or a hot drink, as I dearly love chai) and wander through the other people's gardens, homes and lives via their blogs.  I'm at our community library, which has wifi, to deal with my emails and quickly check the blog roll.  I've got a few books to check out and I guess I'll head back home for some afternoon relaxing and reading out of the heat.

One of the books I'm checking out is Children and Fire, by Ursula Hegi -- about a well-meaning teacher in Hitler's Germany who gets sucked into involvement with Hitler-Jungen and Nazi propaganda.  It looks to be interesting.  Last year we watched a very good movie from Netflix called "Swing Boys" or kids or something like that, with Christian Bale in it, about German youth during WWII who were fans of American swing music and the persecution they faced from the Nazi government because of it.  It was an amazing story, about the power of music.  It was an intense movie with some violence (not gratuitous, the violence was integral to the story IMO and it wasn't horrible gruesomeness, but it was intense and shocking).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Backyard Habitat

habitat sign posted on tree close to sidewalk

Some years ago I went through the process of registering my yard with the National Wildlife Federation as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat.  I'm happy to say that since doing so, at least two other families in our subdivision have done the same.

The process is very easy -- and you don't have to have a "wild" or unconventional yard to qualify.  As a homeschooling family we made the process a family project, having the kids do the mapping and identifying the required features that we already had, and helping to make additional features (like special bird feeders and butterfly feeders).

The important features that your yard must have are food supply (berries, seeds, fruit, nectar for example), water supply (a "puddling" spot, a saucer of water, a bird bath), and cover for raising young (shrubbery, trees, bird houses, spots for toads or lizards, etc.).  In the application one lists and maps out the areas in one's yard that provide these three necessities for nurturing some kind of wildlife -- which could be birds, butterflies, dragonflies, mammals, whatever.  These elements can be clustered in one area (like the backyard), or spread throughout your lot.
frog pond
In my own standard half acre suburban subdivision yard I have several zones, or "garden rooms" as they say in gardening shows and magazines, that each have a role in our backyard wildlife habitat.  I have a small frog pond, with self sustaining mosquito fish, frogs, dragonflies, snails, water striders, water spiders inhabiting it and providing a source of water for birds and other animals.  I also have a clay saucer of water in another part of the yard, serving as a bird bath or puddler, depending on how much water is in it.
one end of woodland path (to the left)
I have an area I call "the woodland path".  This is simply a small pine needle covered path that curves around a maple tree that is next to the driveway.   On one side of the path is the maple tree, some hostas, some lenten roses, dogbane, and maypops, along with a beauty berry bust.  On the other side of the path is another beauty berry, a deciduous azalea, a redbud that appeared a few years ago and a baby magnolia that has turned up.  On both sides of the path there are also red buckeye trees, providing the first nectar for the migrating hummingbirds.  When the buckeyes bloom I know it's time to put out the hummingbird feeders.  This area provides berries, nectar, and cover for raising young.  In a more conventionally landscaped yard a few hollies or other berrying shrubs and trees, along with some feeders, can serve the same purpose.
woodland phlox and self heal in my meadow in April
Between the woodland path and the sidewalk I have "the meadow".  In the spring the meadow blooms with native woodland phlox, spring beauties, self-hea, lyre leaf sage, and red clover, sustaining insect life and nectar for early butterflies.  After these plant set seed, this little 6 by 15 ft area is mowed and makes a nice "picnic" spot. In lieu of a "meadow" a bed or pots planted up with nectar producing annuals and perennials nectar seeking birds and butterflies.  A pot of zinnias (so easy for young children to plant and appreciate since they germinate and grow so fast!) will serve nicely.  Add some parsley or fennel and the swallowtails will come sip the zinnias nectar and lay eggs on the herbs, hatching into wonderful caterpillars which can be observed day to day.  Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed only, and gulf frittilaries lay eggs on passion vine.  Give these plants a place in your yard to ensure butterflies in the neighborhood.  They are as important, really more important, than the nectar plants.

Even an apartment front door or balcony can be made into a "backyard wildlife habitat" by planting up a pot or two of flowers chosen for their nectar or nurturing benefits, with a water source and some shrubbery to provide cover for raising young near by.

Add a couple of good insect, butterfly, and bird identification books, maybe a sketchbook or camera, and you have the beginnings of wonderful study of natural science.

Some of my favorite resources are National Wildlife Federation Backyard HabitatToad Cottages and Shooting Stars: Grandma's Bag of Tricks and Country Living Gardener A Blessing of Toads: A Gardener's Guide to Living with Nature by Sharon Lovejoy along with any of her other books, Outdoor Nature Hour blog by Harmony Fine Arts, Nature Journaling: Learning to Observe and Connect with the World Around You, Discover Nature in Winter (Discover Nature Series), among others.

This post is linked to Tuesday Garden Party

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fancy Water - a refreshing drink

Still hot.  A heat index of 111 degrees with the humidity.  So while staying in the air conditioning reading The Quarter-Acre Farm I was reminded of this refreshing easy to make drink:  I filled a pitcher with water, then went out to the garden and cut a handful of mint sprigs, lemon balm and lemon verbena, which I put in the pitcher along with a slice of ginger.  I mooshed the herbs a bit in the water with a wooden spoon and then chilled the whole mess in the fridge.  After an hour or so, pour over ice into a beautiful glass (through a strainer), garnish if desired with a fresh sprig of mint.  So refreshing.  Carrying a chilled glass of Fancy Water, I could thus venture out into the muggy oven of the outdoors and even sit in the shade a bit and watch the dragonflies on my little frog pond.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Southern "Roots" Garden (heritage gardening)

Let me point out, it's hot here.  It's really hot.  Even the nights are hot.  And it doesn't rain much from late June to mid September, aside from a stray hurricane or tropical storm that straggles up from the gulf coast.  So it behooves the serious gardener to consider the benefits of tried and true garden plantings -- that date here in the south before interstates and even railroads facilitated cross country distribution of produce.  Our culinary and gardening heritage here in the south is a mixture of European influences, made unique with heavy doses of Africa and the indiginous Native American cultures of the Southeast (Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Cherokee).

So, with all that in mind I decided to have a southern "roots" or "heritage" garden, grown in a kind of traditional indigenous or African style -- that is, garden beds containing a mixture of plants that mimic the canopy, lower under growth, and ground cover of the woods, so to speak -- a mixed vegetative planting that work together creating a more beneficial diverse environment.

In this mixed bed I have one eggplant (old world), and a self seeded tomato growing (new world), along with a pepper plant (new world), constituting the lower or middle growth.  Ultimately creating an upper story to protect the plants below from the searing heat and sun are several okra plants (brought to the south by African slaves).  Although they aren't very tall now, within a few weeks they will be taller than the eggplant and peppers, and showy with their hibiscus like flowers.  The hotter it gets, the faster and better okra grows!  Creating a ground cover to shade the roots and cool the soil are several sweet potatoes scattered through the bed.  Sweet potatoes take heat, neglect, and are traditionally a "first" crop planted here, because they break up our clay soil improving it for later crops.  Okra, sweet potatoes, peppers -- favored plants by agricultural laborers who put in long hours on other people's property and grown on the poorer left-over land, tended in left-over hours -- productive with little care.  I also have some malabar spinach planted, a vining green whose leaves can be used like spinach but can take our heat in the summer, unlike most greens.  There is also some squash planted here, also cooling the soil and roots with its leaves and providing some protection to the other plants with its prickly stems.

The bottom line is, I know that even if the squash succumbs to borers and disease, if the tomato doesn't set fruit and likewise succumbs, if the pepper drops all of its leaves and buds (as they sometimes do in our drought/deluge rain pattern -- I can count on the okra, the sweet potatoes, and the malabar spinach to give a good harvest with next to no effort on my part other than the planting and the harvesting.

posting on   Tuesday Garden Party .

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Some Rain and Relief!

Yay!  We got about a little over a half inch of rain last night so my plants have perked up considerably.  They always seem to do so much better with rain water than any amount of watering with the sprinkler.  The rain brought the overnight temperatures down into the upper 60's and right now it's in the mid 80's, which is a lot more pleasant than the mid to upper 90's that it has been by mid afternoon these last few weeks.  At least now my two rain barrels are replenished.

So I have spent a good bit of the day doing some weeding and poking in the garden.  My okra that I planted in the "bag garden" is up.  And now I am waiting for my husband to get back from the store.  I got all ready to make a no-cook strawberry jam only to find only a cup of sugar in the pantry.  So I jumped on here for a bit while my water heats for some afternoon chai and to await the sugar delivery and resumption of the strawberry jam making.

Friday, June 10, 2011

"What is she up to now?"

sign in my yard
See this sign in my yard?  The neighbors likely think it's an apt description.  They are probably thinking, "What is she up to now?".  With all of our extreme heat and lack of rain and seeing how it is still early in the season, I have decided to hedge my garden production bets by planting additional sweet potatoes and okra.  Sweet potatoes and okra, generally impervious to drought and heat, and even insect infestation.  Old standby basics of a southern garden.  The only problem is my vegetable garden is already planted up with squash, beans, tomatoes, basil, peppers, eggplants -- limping along in this heat, it is true.  But I still have hopes and am not ready to give in and pull them out yet.  I squeezed in the sweet potatoes where the now defunct sugar snaps, radishes and lettuce were.  But where and how to plant more okra?  The only virgin soil left in the yard is in the front -- in the median between the sidewalk and street, where the purple tomato pots are.  I took a claw thing and tried to break up some soil and get out the remaining bermuda grass -- but it was as hard as the concrete it lies between.  So, I did this:

Talk about lazy gardening!  I got this idea from Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens.  I laid down some cardboard and newspaper right on the spot I wanted to plant.  Then I hauled over some bags of garden soil/top soil and laid them on top.  I sliced a big rectangle out of the top of each bag, leaving about a 2 inch frame of plastic, and took a large screwdriver and rammed it through the soil and the bags to punch drainage holes.  Then I planted my okra seeds directly in the bags.  Okra can take a lot of neglect and doesn't need the richest soil by any means, so hopefully they will sprout up and do fine.  I soaked the seed overnight, which helps germination.  After the growing season I can rip out the plants and dump the soil right in the same spot where the cardboard and newspaper will have decomposed and smothered out the weeds and grass underneath, and have good soil to plant in next year.  At least that's the plan.

Linked to Tuesday Garden Party at Oregon Cottage

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fearless Gardening

This is my gardening theme for this year -- Fearless Gardening!  I found these great purple pots at Tuesday Morning.  And Fearless of critique I decided to plant them up with some tomato plants and put them between the street and sidewalk in front of our house.

potting mix ready
You can see a bit of the purple pot here.  I make up my own potting mix, mixing a bag of cheapo potting soil from Lowes, adding in some perlite, some bagged composted manure, and some shredded pine mulch, and sometimes some compost from my compost piles.

purple pot ready to plant
In go some packing peanuts for drainage.  Packing peanuts seem to last a thousand years -- I save them and reuse for drainage, as they don't make the pots as heavy as when you use shards or stones.  Of course, now it seems most companies are moving away from packing peanuts in deliveries, so my supply has dwindled considerably.  When they run out, I use up-ended small plastic nursery pots that plants I have bought come in.
purple pot placed permanently

And here you see my fearless gardening in all its splendor -- purple pot planted up with a tomato plant and a bright blue tomato cage, placed on some pavers on the median strip between street and sidewalk.  The pavers make a walking space for people to traverse across the median without stepping on my plants.  You can also see my showy primrose, that I have naturalized through a lot of my front yard, along with the mailbox on an antique water pump, that I painted a few years back.  I have four such purple pots with tomato plants along the sidewalk.

Now, I've been told that such garden style is perfectly normal in such places as Portland and Seattle and California.  Or Austin, or even midtown Memphis.  But here in the 'burbs of Memphis, this fearlessness risks the wrath of real estate agents with listings of near by houses, along with residents who suffer from "fear of plants close to a sidewalk" (fortunately none of the folks on my actual street).  I am surrounded by a sea of standard waterhog grass lawns and attendant lawn chemical (ab)use.  But for each hater, there are people that stop me and say how much they like  walk by the house and see what's growing, how it reminds them of _____ (Seattle, Portland, their grandmother's old homeplace, etc), and children that are in awe of the dragonflies and butterflies.  So I continue to garden fearlessly.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Productive Day

Oh my goodness, the extreme weather just keeps on!  All week the highs have been in the 90's (normal highs should be low 80's) and yesterday and today -- 99 and 100 degrees.  These are not only record highs, but the earliest occurring since they started keeping records.  It's not unusual for us to have high 90's and even 100 degrees in July and August -- but last of May and early June?  Completely unheard of until now.  And not a hint of rain.

Despite the heat (and it is NOT a dry heat -- it's Memphis humid heat), I went to the local farmer's market, got accepted to purchase a CSA share for the summer (a quarter share to supplement my own garden, which with this heat . . . who knows what it will produce this summer), then went to a local garden tour along with all the other crazy gardeners who love to see other people's gardens, even if it's 95 degrees and bazillion per cent humidity, got home and walked the neighbor's dog (they're out of town and both my girls whose job it is, were spending the night with friends), and finally potted up or planted the plants and herbs I bought last week at Anthony's Herb Farm Festival -- hyssop, rosemary "arp" and rosemary "salem", and some scented geraniums being the most notable, although there were a host of others that I couldn't resist.  Now it's water, water, water, more water -- one rain barrel is already empty.