Sallymander's blog

Fire on the Mountain
Posted on Aug 1, 2019 4:16 AM

Life/gardening was fun and easy at the old house. It is challenging and rewarding at the new house. We moved three houses away from our old house and we might as well landed on Mars. Yesterday, our son's truck engine caught on fire in the backyard. Long short, happy ending, everyone, everything is fine. The incident however, reminded me how important Stewardship of the land is. When we moved in eight years ago, summers were so dry, the earth would crack and you could stick your arm down the fissures. The land has improved greatly and I take great pride in our efforts. It was possible to suppression yesterday's fire because of the work we have done. Yes, the yard was dry, but the yard had only just dried. It was as dry yesterday as it previously had been by June. With our efforts, we have shorted the fire season by two months. Someone else living here, there's a good chance the fire would have spread into the woods, and that would have been disastrous. And yet, for all our pride and effort, there is still along way to go.

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Posted on Jul 31, 2019 8:44 AM

As I've said in several posts, the neighbor girl went off to college and took her cat with her. There has been an explosion of rodents. I don't mind the squirrels, chipmunks, and bunnies. I'm not overly thrilled with the rat population, and apparently, neither are my neighbors. I keep finding dead poisoned rats out in my yard. I know I didn't poison them. And I know even the flies won't touch a rat that died of poison. So it will stink up the yard until I do something about it. It irritates me to have to dispose of dead animals I didn't kill.

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Posted on Jul 26, 2019 2:31 PM

While we have planted plenty of hedges for other people, we've never had to plant a hedge for ourselves, either because one wasn't necessary, or because the hedges already existed. On the one hand, it is really nice to not have to plant a hedge and wait for it to grow, and on the other... it would have been fun to plant the hedge the way I would plant it, with the plants I would prefer to have.

The industry standard for planting hedges has long mystified me. It is so obviously wrong, I can't figure out how it got started, let alone, allowed to continue. Being the daughter of a Yank, I think I'll blame the Brits. The Brits had those huge gardens with their huge hedges that were probably inspired by the French. We, of course, couldn't let the Brits nor the French out do us, so we followed suit and upped the ante so to speak. If the Brits planted five feet on center, we'd plant three! Ha! Touche! We have more plants than you. Nanny nanny, nah, nah. Crowd those babies in. Or maybe, someone wanted to sell a lot of plants fast and made the standard up and everyone went along because they didn't know better. Those are my best guesses, but really, it's time to grow up and stop competing, and start making sense. Give your hedge some room to grow!

If you're thinking of planting a hedge, think about a few things, especially if you are in the 'burbs with not a lot of space. First, think small. Hedges are not fun to prune. Climbing on a ladder is precarious. So plant plants that will fill in the space at their mature height so you don't have to prune. Second, do not over plant with the idea you'll remove some once they start to fill in. Nobody ever does that, and even if they did, it's disruptive to the grow of the other plants to have one removed and have the roots stump ground. Space the plants the distance they should be at their mature height. The more space you give them at planting time, the healthier and faster they will grow. Plant annuals in between to fill the space while you're waiting for them to fill in.

End Hedge Abuse

Thank you for listening. I hope to live to rant another day!


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Lawn abuse
Posted on Jul 22, 2019 6:28 AM

I will be the first to admit, I'm not a fan of lawns. That said, if I'm going to have a lawn, I want a lawn that is full of life. The obstacles have been daunting and I'm currently taking a hiatus on the topic.

We rent. I have zero say over when the lawn is mowed, aerated and thatched (acts that range from sporadic to never.) The terrain is steep, and I'm older, so doing it myself really isn't an option. It is immeasurably frustrating to know so much about how to do a thing, and no ability to do it, nor any authority to see it done the way I wish.

We live on an acre. When we moved here, disease was rampant. There was dead and dying apple trees, runaway blackberries, thistles everywhere and something that couldn't pass as a lawn if it were the only lawn left on the planet. From the very first day, we, like all previous tenants, have used the lawn as a "road" to access the rest of the yard. Cars, trucks, trailers, run the loop almost daily. The soil beneath the lawn is like cement. Whenever it rained, an inch of rain water would flood across the lawn and down into the street, flooding the road. It was not possible for the soil to absorb any of the rain. The lawn was dry in all but the wettest month. Every summer, at his earliest convenience, which always coincided with a heat wave, the mower dude would arrive without warning and scalp the lawn to the ground, leaving nothing but dust. This was his way to get out of mowing the rest of the summer. He got paid either way. The earth was so dry, it cracked and you could put your arm down the fissures.

The first thing we did was remove half the lawn, bring in mountains of mulch, and plant. Reducing the size of the lawn opened up the soil and allowed water in for the first time in decades. Now, no matter how much it rains, no flooding occurs. The rain seeps in. That has helped the remaining lawn, but not enough. Even after removing half the lawn, it remains the primary feature of the yard. I couldn't afford to water all of it, so I test watered a sizable patch one year, and found it made absolutely no difference. The compacted soil beneath the lawn simply can not hold moisture. Without the ability to hold moisture, it is no surprise, fertilizing is also of little value. I exuded a lot of effort in the reclamation of the lawn the first few years. I felt I was spending half the year nursing the lawn to health in the wet months, and the other half, killing it, by driving on it, so I stopped the nursing. The driving won out.

Yesterday, the lawn looked dry, and yet, for reasons I have no knowledge of, the mower dude has yet to scalp it. In fact, he's been mowing it high. It is about four inches tall. As pathetic as it is, it is actually a huge improvement. In years past, I was vigilant about removing the mole hills, because I know mower dudes don't like to mow mole hills. This year, I let them go. I can't help but wonder if the two are somehow linked. If so, major score for Mr. Mole!

While the lawn remains the desert surrounding the oasis, ever threatening to consume it, this tiny concession of allowing the lawn summer time growth has given me hope. This small act has given me inspiration to start restoration anew in the fall. If we are still here in five years, it is my hope the lawn will be a source of pride, rather than shame. Wish me luck!

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Window boxes
Posted on Jul 19, 2019 1:20 PM

I've been window gardening for a while now, and here are a few observations.

Metal frames with coir liners are cheap to buy, but expensive to maintain. That said, they are not without their purpose. I like to stack planters one above another on the wall, to get more soil depth. Stacking doesn't work as well with other planters. Birds like to nest in my stacked planters. I like birds. But a nesting bird means you can't water the planter until the bird is done nesting, which, in my yard, is mid July. Your best options here is, use a self watering planter at the base and stack up with coir planters; then you can water the side of the planter the bird is not nesting in, and all the plants get watered equally. Replacing coirs can be a pain. If you use a single coir, the coir shrinks and buckles, loses its shape and doesn't fit the frame. If you double up the coirs one inside another, the liner is firmer, lasts long, and the top lip of the coir sits above the frame, reducing soil spillage.

Copper planters are best on the cool side of the house, unless you are planting something that really likes the heat. Copper planters hold moisture better than coir planters. They require less maintenance. You can split some pvc pipe length wise, duct tape it to the bottom of the planter so it can catch the drainage water and divert it to the side. Then, you can wedge slender branches through the angled support arm, creating a front "wall." You can do similar things to the sides and build a place birds want to nest under the planter. Pretty cool, huh?

Self watering window boxes are expensive, but hold a reasonable water reserve. I am not found of plastics of any kind, so I don't find them attractive, but they are useful for hard to reach places, and as a base for stacking coir lined metal frames.

Self made planters are fun, but rarely work as well as I had hoped. The "bargains" on Craigslist rarely are. Most of the time, by the time you replace the missing parts, you could have bought new.

Location, location, location. I got into window boxes as a way to reduce the heat on our southern bedroom window. But like all gardening, once you start, there is no place to stop. I will put a window box almost anywhere: below a window, above a window, to the side of a window and even where there is no window at all. The two places I would never put a window box is over a door (though I'm fixing to put one over the fixed side of a sliding glass door, but that's not the same thing,) and the other is directly over the dryer vent. I have a copper planter about three to six feet from a dryer vent and that's really still too close. It confuses the plants. They can't tell what season it is.

You can plant anything you are willing to maintain inside a window box: annuals, perennials, bonsai trees. Your effort is the only limitation.

I love my window boxes, and I hope you love yours, too.

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