Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Hedgerow and Wildlife

One of the things I decided to plant in my yard was a hedgerow for wildlife. This hedgerow provides benefits for the human animal occupants at our address as well. As a wind screen, the hedgerow slows the massive winds we get in the Tooele valley. It also provides cover for birds, insects and spiders. The hedgerow provides many things for wildlife. The bushes and trees in the hedgerow are generally fairly xeric, requiring only minimal amounts of water to keep them healthy. Year after year of leaf litter builds up the soil there creating humous which retains much of the moisture it gets. Below are the list of bushes and trees in the hedge.

Cercocarpus ledifolius- curl-leaf mahagony
Forestiera neomexicana- new mexican privet
Quercus gambellii- gambel oak
Acer grandidentatum- rocky mountain sugar maple
Shepherdia argentea- silver buffalo-berry
Quercus macrocarpa- bur oak
Pinus aristata- bristlecone pine
Cornus sericea- red-twig dogwood

All of these are native to the U.S. and the diversity of food provides for many different species of lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) as well as insects for birds such as nuthatches, wilson's warbliers, and members of the woodpecker family.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Planting In Winter

Several of the penstemon species I planted in the fridge are now beginning to germinate. Setting them on potting soil and keeping them watered, hopefully, I'll have some healthy plants ready for the garden in May. You have to love penstemons, because it takes love to grow them. But boy do they reward you every spring and early summer. Just as the bulbs fade, the penstemons are there to pick up the slack, providing color for your yard, and nectar and pollen for the critters in your yard.

I'm also looking forward to planting more of several species that I fell in love with last year. Salvia mojavensis, Salvia darcyi, and Aquilegia chrysantha are just a few plants I've decided I need more of. Happy planting.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Gathering Seeds and Pulling Exhausted Plants

It is for me, a melancholy time of year. The harvest has run it's course, and though many flowers are still in bloom, they are one good frost from turning to black mush. I leave the flowers in bloom alone as they help nourish my allies, the pollinating insects with the vital nectar to survive the harsh winter that is rapidly coming. The hummers are long gone, though I still have red flowered salvias designed for them still in bloom. Salvia lemmonii and darcyi are mojave and sonoran desert plants, and will die back to the ground, but will generally return each year from their root crown.

Now is the time to gather seeds. Most penstemon seeds are fully ripe and I'll fill my old prescription bottles with seeds for next year's plantings. Who knows, there may be an interesting hybrid in the works, as penstemons are known to cross-pollinate at times and produce interesting intermediates. Same for the agastaches.

Now is the time I pull up my squash plants. By the end of the year, they generally have some powdery mildew on the leaves, and I need to discard them and make sure I plant squash in a different location next year. There's always a smattering of small squashes that just didn't make it, but I have enough hubbards, sweetmeats and butternuts to keep me eating squash till atleast January.

My tomatoes are still producing, though the flavor tends to wane this time of year as fewer hours of sunlight means less sugar in the fruit. The first frost will doom them. Same for the peppers.

Soon, all I'll have of this year's garden are pictures and whatever food I have stored for future use. The other thing I'll hold on to is hopes for the future. That next year's garden will be more productive, and next year's flowers more spectacular than this year.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Garden Lunch Tradition

One little thing I’ve been doing to improve my health is to have periodically a “garden lunch.” What that means is that everything I eat has come from my garden or the produce section at the local store. Early fall is a wonderful time to have these lunches on the weekend to enjoy while watching football, assured that what I’m eating is unlikely going to make me look like a nose-guard and more like a half back. This last Sunday, I had one of these garden lunches and I have to say, it was filling and nutritious. It was also very tasty.

The heart of the lunch was a nice piece of sweet meat squash. Spiced with salt, cinnamon, and honey, it this is the starchy core of the meal. Also adding some starch was a nice succulent ear of corn on the cob. Added to these, I added some greens, kale and swiss chard to be exact. Steamed and salted, I added some cumin, dill seed, fresh oregano and basil (only the cumin was not from my garden). To add some raw dishes to the garden lunch, I added a sliced red pepper and tomato.

All in all, it was a very tasty lunch. A little later in the afternoon, I ate some fresh plums that the birds had missed. Try a garden lunch. It’s good for you and tastes terrific. And though I won’t say it’s free, it is already paid for.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Some Native Shrub Suggestions

Here in Utah, there are some very attractive native shrubs and small trees to consider in the landscape. Some are more drought tolerant than others, but for the right conditions, these plants can add vitality to your landscape and provide natural habitat for the critters in your neighborhood. Here are some of my recommendations. (Picture- hedge of curl-leaf mahagony and new mexican privet)

Cercocarpus ledifolius (curl-leaf mahogany)- A member of the rose family, this small tree to large shrub has glossy, dark green leaves and once it is established, requires minimal water to keep it going. A terrific tree for a windbreak, the leaves are designed to handle the windy environment I live in, and I only have to go a half mile to find them growing wild in the foothills above my house. This tree/shrub is actually an evergreen broad-leafed tree that will carry leaves all winter and will drop leaves periodically adding a carpet of yellow below the plant, while maintaining a full set of leaves. It produces a long-hairy seed that adds visual interest to the plant. I have planted several that I purchased from nurseries, and I have also grown them successfully from seed. So here you have it, a drought tolerant, attractive native shrub that is tolerant of wind and even browsing from deer.

Cowania Stansburiana (stansbury cliffrose)- This is another member of the rose family and a close relative of curleaf mahogany. However, this small shrub has grayish green leaves and striking and wonderfully fragrant yellow flowers. I have grown only one from seed successfully, and have not found any at nurseries though I see them in the hills above my house. I will be trying for more of these next year, as I’ve harvested some seeds. This shrub is very drought tolerant, low-growing and the fragrance has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. The deer will eat some of this shrub, and it’s close cousin purshia tridentata (antelope bitterbrush), but not to the point where you will generally lose the shrub. I wish more nurseries carried this wonderful plant.

Forestiera neomexicana (New Mexican privet)- This native member of the olive family looks and acts a lot like its ash (fraxinus) relatives, except it grows nicely into a shrub and it has a small blue olive-like fruit that some birds will snack on. Like other olive relatives, forestiera neomexicana is dioecious, meaning there are male and female plants. You’ll generally need three or more plants to ensure you get some of the little blue fruits that will show up on the females.

Salix exigua (Coyote willow)- This native willow was highly used by native people. It grows along streambeds and though it is not drought tolerant, it is very conducive to living comfortably in your typical suburban landscape. The only difference, is this willow will be attractive to native habitat including several species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and therefore attractive to birds which prey on these critters. This shrub produces beautiful catkins which leads some to call these plants native pussy-willows. Unlike many willows, this shrub will not shed branches promiscuously with the wind. It will sucker and can be propagated from cuttings. My goal is to create a small pond, surrounded by coyote willows. I’ve got the willows. I just need the pond.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

New Gardening Blog

I Obi wan liberali, being of somewhat sound mind, have decided to add to my blogging repertoire. Since some of my latest posts over at the "hornet's nest" have been more about gardening and nature than strictly in the world of politics, I have decided to create a new blog for that purpose. This will free me to take on fellow gardeners who may be deranged enough to be tea partying morons during the weekdays but shovel wielding gardeners on the weekend.

Just a word about the name of the blog. I got back into gardening over the past few years for several reasons. One has been financial. Times have been tough at the Obi residence and raising food to eat has been one method of surviving in the wreckage left by W. and his neocons. Second,I found myself heavier than I wanted to be and my doctor told me to lose weight or die. I have turned to a vegetable centered diet, and combined with regular workouts has resulted in a weight loss of fifty pounds so far. Third, environmental considerations have led me to want to produce food locally to not only feed myself, but family and friends. Giving others the bounty of your collaboration with nature is deeply rewarding. Also, I garden with the intention of not only feeding humans, but critters as well. Whether it's hummingbirds, robins, spiders or one of many species, I try to be somewhat accomodating, even though I lose some food to nature. The rewards however, are more butterflies, hummers and other birds, and other creatures that add biodiversity to my residence.

For me, gardening isn't about a victory over nature, it is a collaboration with nature for mutual benefit. There are limits to my collaboration, as squash bugs are not tolerated because they don't just eat the juices from squash plants, they infect the vines with a virus that kills the plants. So there are exceptions.

I hope in this blog to discuss gardening concepts and share ideas with others about what has worked for me and what has not. I may also recommend certain plants and their uses and warn people of invasive plants that are bad choices to foster in your garden.

So, if you are interested in gardening and nature, read along and we can hopefully learn from each other.