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Archive for January, 2017

At our last Garden Committee meeting the topic of “SOIL” came up.  Although we all have a pretty good idea that as gardeners, we know what soil is…it ain’t necessarily so!  My aim here today is to acquaint us with the REAL meanings, definition and uses of various types of SOIL.  They are definitely not all the same!

For instance, do you know that “dirt” is the stuff under your fingernails; what’s on your dungaree knees; the debris carried into the house on your sneakers after being in the garden; what the dog brings in; and in general, what you need to vacuum up to keep the house clean?  That is NOT the stuff we plant our posies in!

What we plant in, is SOIL!  But, there really are different types of soil.  As gardeners we should be aware of what they are and how to differentiate between them, so we use them properly.

We could start by calling it a “planting medium”.  The reason for that is that there are so many soil types.  Here is a site from the University of Maryland Extension Service.  After a fair amount of searching I found this one which is pretty basic.  No super charts, or long chemical connections…just the simple facts.  I will go into more specifics about what is available to you here at Horizon House.

We essentially have 3 (three) different soil types available for your use.  Remember you should NOT need to add much soil at all.  All the garden beds have ample soil right now.  Occasionally, you might want to top dress, or dig in a bit of compost (as an amendment).  If for some reason you really do need to add soil, it should be in the “top soil” category.  So, here goes!

TOP SOIL   is what you will commonly find beneath your feet, in any garden environment!  Top soil varies in quality, depending on where it is found.  The top soil on a mountain top will  be very different from that on a river flood plain.  So, unless you know where it originates, you really won’t know at all whether it’s any good at all for your garden.  But, having said that, the Garden Soil we get is in a bag. We can rest assured that it is decent soil.  It is NOT special potting soil, that often has amendments added; nor is it mulch or compost.  It’s just plain soil…nothing more, nothing less.  Here is a link about soil basics  that you might find interesting.

MULCH  is what you put on top of the soil, around your plants.  It provides protection from drenching rain; it holds moisture which your plants can access easily; it provides shade for tender roots lying just beneath the surface; weeds cannot find their way into your well mulched garden; it provides warmth, protecting roots from deep freezes.  Over the year(s), if it is organic, it breaks down, adding texture and nutrients to the soil below.  This means that you can add, probably SHOULD add, new mulch every year, either in the spring or the fall.  Go to this link about MULCH which will add to your understanding of this product.  And by the way, do not worry about the mulch getting into the soil.  It will break down and become compost in the soil.  It will also provide instant bulk and moisture retaining qualities. (There is also non-organic mulch which will not break down, like plastic and rubber.  We do NOT utilize non-organic mulch in our gardens here at Horizon House.)

COMPOST is what I define as “Black Gold”!  compost-handIt is naturally broken down organic materials.  These are usually composed of leaves, grass, discarded garden plants (NOT diseased) and even non-fatty kitchen scraps(fat attracts “critters”). It sits and decomposes until it’s totally broken down.  A process that takes about a year.  Here is a link that will explain the process of making and using COMPOST.  For our gardens at Horizon House, we get bagged compost.  We should use this as an AMENDMENT to our garden soil.  It should NOT be 100% of the soil surrounding your plants!

Ragan suggests a ratio of about 4 parts garden soil to 1 part compost.  I’d say that’s even a bit high, but it’s a good guide.  The compost can be worked into the soil around your plant roots.  When you plant new materials, work some compost into the soil.

So there you have it.  I hope that helps.  I’ll try to get that little chart we talked about at the meeting posted somewhere in the E level storage area.

 

 

 

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Someone was concerned because many plants appear to be dead or dying out in our garden terraces.  So, I put on my “woolies” and ventured out to check all three levels.

 

What I found there were three levels of gardens suffering from winter!  I found nothing unusual. I found that most gardeners had done with their gardens, what they needed to do.  They had cut back perennials that needed cutting back.  The hardy perennials that had been left, were in differing states of life.   Some of them looked fabulous!  Some looked a bit haggard (like me on a cold, windy day).  And some looked a little surprised that their moderate Seattle had dealt them a surprising hand with freezing temperatures over a few weeks.

Seattle doesn’t often suffer from such cold for so long.  BUT, right now that is what’s happening.  If our tender plants were not bundled up (like we have done with ourselves when we’ve ventured out) before this hard frost hit, they are suffering a bit.  But, worry not.  Nature has planned for this.  Notice, even the plants caught in their own little pond, are doing quite well!

The plants that are perennials are doing just fine.  It could be that their tops have died back…but that’s OK.  That’s what they do!  They will come back robustly in the spring.

The shrubs and trees (be they large or little) that are deciduous (losing their leaves in the winter) have lost their leaves, making them look a bit naked.  The other trees and shrubs look wonderful.  Their leaves and budding tips are just waiting to burst forth on the first warm day.

The annuals, or non-hardy plants, large and small, have succumbed to Father Winters cold blasts…as they are expected to do.  They do NOT look good.  They are the ones that should find their way into the compost!

The final word on all of this is not to worry.  It’s too late to do anything anyway.  Some of the gardeners have either put, or left, fallen leaves on their garden beds.  That is a wonderful technique of mulching (snugging up the plants).  Nature takes care of it’s own.  When a cover is needed…there are the fallen leaves!

img_5956Many gardeners also cover their plants with burlap when a hard frost is expected, but nature hasn’t planned anything like that, so it’s nice, but not necessary.  That is a more prevalent technique in areas with snow and wind, to protect a plant against losing too much moisture, and even protecting branches from heavy snow loads.

All in all, I think the gardens look great.  Don’t worry!  All will be well in the spring.  And if you’ve lost something, consider it an opportunity to plant something new and different!

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HUMMERS AT THE WINDOW

This week I hung my little hummingbird feeder up again.  img_5905It’s facing in an awkward direction…I’ll have to fix that.  I’ll insert a photo of it here.  The gravel seems to indicate that I’m at ground level…in a sense I am, but on the 4th floor.  What you see outside it is the edge of our “Green Roof”, which happens to be gravel.

I know the hummers are here because I see them going to the flowers planted in the pots scattered about on the green roof.  I’m in the “patiently waiting” mode right now.  I have filled the feeder with sugar syrup.  I use 4 parts water to 1 part sugar.  I combine those in a pot, and bring it to an easy boil, stirring until the sugar is totally dissolved.  I then pour it into a little bottle which I keep in the ‘fridge, until it’s time to fill the feeder again.  I certainly bring either cold or hot solution to room temperature before presenting it to the birds.

I am also careful to clean the feeder between uses.  I usually have two feeders, so I can put the used one in the dishwasher, and fill the other one.  If you have a feeder that can’t be put in the dishwasher…you do need to clean it by hand before putting it out again.  Be sure to rinse it carefully after washing.  Soap is NOT good for those little birds.

I also know that here at Horizon House we are not supposed to have bird feeders outside our units.  I understand that.  Birds are messy eaters, strewing seed and discarded hulls all over.  This draws unwanted critters.  It also creates a mess on windows and balcony’s below…because birds are not particular about where they “poop” or throw seed.  So, NO REGULAR BIRD-FEEDERS at Horizon House!!!  Not even on our garden decks.

I need to insert a disclaimer here.  When we know (and we DO know) the exterior window washer person is due to clean our windows, these feeders MUST BE REMOVED to allow them to clean the windows without impediment!  This is an easy task, and a small one to pay for the pleasure of watching these little natural wonders at our window!

But, then we come to hummingbirds.  I dare you to find their “poop” on your windows.  Occasionally a tiny remnant might be found on the feeder itself, but it is never larger than the head of a pin!  They have no seeds to discard, and they are pretty efficient sippers.  They don’t spill.  Too bad my kids never learned that skill!

Hummingbirds are our constant winter companions here in the Seattle area.  They are not as prolific as in the summer, but they are here.  There are some flowers available for them, but the feeders provide extra nectar, for which they rejoice.

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