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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

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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daffodils-1399483I have gotten so many questions lately from our gardeners about their bulbs.  They are coming up and it’s only the beginning of November!

I am a little unfamiliar with  this problem.  In New England (my recent, and longtime home) this isn’t a problem.  If the bulbs begin to show green, they are soon nipped by frost and go back to bed like good little bulbs.  But, here in the Pacific Northwest, it appears this is a real issue!

I have checked everywhere for more information on this problem and have not been able to find specific suggestions on how to handle it.  But, let me “soldier on”.

Bulbs will begin to sprout when they have had enough time, darkness and moisture to produce good root growth.  When it gets warm the bulb thinks it’s spring.  How does figure that out?  It’s under the surface of the ground, and can only react to what nature is telling it…and right now, it’s being told it’s warm enough to send up some shoots.  The bulb thinks it must be spring!  But it’s NOT spring, and we gardeners are puzzled.  We have every right to be puzzled.  Just remember the bulb is not puzzled, it’s just doing what it’s supposed to be doing.  Or so it thinks!

In all my research, I think I’ve come up with enough information to suggest why this may be happening.

screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-8-26-56-amLike so many problems, we often have to back-track to the beginning.  Bulbs need to be planted at least 3 times their depth.  That means a dry bulb that measures 2 (two) inches from root to tip, should be planted 6 (six) inches in the ground!  That’s pretty deep.  Take it seriously!

Here at Horizon House, we garden in large beds.  Those beds are actually large containers.  I wonder if our bulbs think we are forcing them?  In that scenario, bulbs are planted in a much more shallow manner, and come up pretty quickly once they sense it’s warm!  If that is the case, it would say to me that we need to be ever vigilant to plant our bulbs deeply, so they don’t get an early wake-up call.

Right now, we’ve got early shoots appearing…what do we do?  There is not much you can do, unfortunately.  If you cover them, they will just continue to reach for the sun.  They will become leggy and vulnerable.  I would just leave them.  In nature this would happen as well.  The bulbs won’t die.  They might not flower particularly well come spring, but the following year they should be fine.

Remember to let the foliage die down naturally come “post-blooming” time.  The bulbs themselves need the nutrition that comes from the leaves.  You might also give them a “shot” of fertilizer at that time.

37350208-old-garden-scoop-on-root-and-soil-of-flowers-top-viewA further suggestion might be that in the spring when you’re so happy to be out in the garden and are digging, if you run across any shallow bulbs, get them down deeper.  If you buy new bulbs, plant them DEEP!  In our beds, it’s easy to not go deep enough.

I don’t know if this has helped your quandary at all, but at least it has given us all something to think about.  As we garden, we learn.  Sometimes we just have to stand back and let nature “do it’s thing”.  I also feel it’s telling us that global warming is even affecting our bulbs!

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What is a tree anyway?

First, it is a plant that has a woody stem.  Second, it lives for a long time…maybe or usually longer than humans!  Here is a wonderful link to Utah State University Forestry Extension Service.  It gives a more complete explanation.  However, I’ll give you the abbreviated version here.

On the outside of the woody stem is the bark, with which we are all familiar.  screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-11-54-28-amRight under the bark is the cambium, which in it’s “process” forms the bark and the wood within.  We also know it as the wood “ring”, which forms each year, telling us the age of the tree.  A new ring for every year!

Next comes the phloem (also called “sapwood”) which moves the sugars, water, minerals, and other necessary ingredients for the life of the tree, up and down between leaves and roots.  It eventually becomes part of the outer bark, while new growth takes it’s place.  That phloem (sapwood) is what allows us to tap trees for things like maple syrup!    After awhile the interior wood dies and forms the “heartwood”.  Here is a sketch explaining all of that from the Utah State page.

But, wait!  Don’t shrubs have some of these same characteristics?  Yes, they do, but usually a tree is defined as having one central, large (3 inches +), stem.  A shrub usually has quite a number of stems.

Then there are woody vines, that cannot hold themselves erect.  They usually hold onto something by way of tendrils or by twining.  Sometimes they just grow along the ground.

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The canopy cover in Seattle now is about 23%.  What this means is that 23% of our city streets have a lovely canopy of tree branches.  Those of us, fortunate enough to fly in and out of Sea-Tac, see this every time we fly over Seattle. img_5618
Seattle’s goal, established in 2007, is to reach 30% canopy cover in 30 years. The data from the recent study is exciting because it provides critical information about recent canopy changes across the city as well as within different land uses, neighborhoods, and watersheds. This information allows the City to better plan and manage Seattle’s urban forest.” (Quote from Seattle reLeaf)

Aside from just being a pleasant presence, trees provide many benefits to our city environment.  Among those benefits are absorption of carbon dioxide; helping thwart flood water from affecting our streets and gardens; shading buildings thereby lessening the need for air conditioning; the roots help filter rain runoff, refreshing the water going into our streams and waterways; those roots also hold the soil in which they reside; and most certainly it offers relief to all of us in the form of shade!

Here at Horizon House our garden spaces have always had trees, still do.  When we had the reconstruction project that impacted our garden sites over the past year and a half, a number of our trees were removed.  There were a few reasons for that.

  • One was that the trees had actually become root-bound.  They lived in large planters, and eventually over the course of 10 plus years, their roots filled the space.  When that happens the planters can crack.  It also makes it impossible for the gardeners to dig and care for their plants.
  • Another reason was that the planters needed to be cleaned up, relined, and provided with irrigation pipes.

But now, that is all done.  We are awaiting replanting of trees in our spaces.  It is important for that to happen.  Sure, their roots will again fill those planters, but we will have benefited in the meantime.

Earlier this week, HH planned a trip for us, through “Spotlight On Seattle”. img_5605 We visited the Seattle Waterfront, and quite a few viewpoints. img_5615 img_5638img_5644 On the trip we came very close to the area where Seattle suffered a huge “clear cut“.  The folks responsible felt the view was beautiful, and the trees were interfering with their view, so they just cut down the trees!  A VERY BAD IDEA!  They have been sued by the city, as well they should.

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-11-49-18-am

Seattle Times

Not only did they destroy the trees, they made the hill on which the trees lived very vulnerable to “slides” since the roots of the trees held the soil during rains.

At any rate, I hope Horizon House remembers all of this when they are choosing to replant our trees.  We need those trees.  The city wants and needs those trees.  The residents here are anxious to have the shade and gentle noises of waving leaves back.

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Oh, my!  Why didn’t I know about this method of gardening about 40 years ago???

When our log cabin was built in New Hampshire, the builder cleared an entire meadow stacking the branches, logs, soil, grass, etc. in a huge pile at the back of a meadow.  I pretty much ignored it!  Sure, it grew wild flowers and plants.  Blackberries loved it, and so did the snakes, bees and other critters, but, since it was in a shady and out of the way place, I essentially ignored it.

Hugelkultur (or hugel) is a pile of logs, branches, wood chips, (etc.) covered with soil and planted!!!  It generates it’s own nutrients; stays moist; and because it is breaking down, it stays warmer generating a longer growing period.

Here is a link showing all the details of hugelkultur17 hugelkultur_bed I have included here a photograph taken from that page to show you how pretty they can actually be.  This one is small compared to what I might have had in New Hampshire!

It is such an obvious, good plan.  Where have I been???

I must admit, I did have a pile of chips (awaiting use as mulch) that I called my “nursery”.  I used that pile for inserting little trees, plants and shrubs I didn’t have time, or a location decided on yet.  It was wonderful.  The little plants grew so happily with little or no extra fuss.  They were warm and happy.  The pile was in the shade too.  I think that actually worked to the advantage of the newly planted orphans because they didn’t have to worry about sun scald, or the drying complications of too much sunshine.   That pile however, did not have any soil, which kept the plants from growing too rapidly.  It was kind of a “holding” technique.  I also have to say, that NH gets more inches of rain than our Pacific Northwest climate affords.  I think the plants might dry out here, using that technique.  From that standpoint, I’m sure the shade also helped.

I wish now that I’d included something about that huge pile, or the nursery, in my book…but I didn’t.  There’s lots more to read there however.  Aside from the calendar, there are tons of vignettes about my gardening adventures in New Hampshire.  🙂

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Mulch?  What is it?  Why should I DO it?  It sounds “labor intensive”…is it?  How will it help my garden?

Well, let’s look at all those issues:

What is MULCH?-1

  • Mulch is really any material you apply to the surface of the soil around your plants that
    • keeps weeds down
    • helps keep moisture in the soil, rather than allowing it to evaporate
    • provides nutrients (unless you use fabric or plastic) as it breaks down
    • Improves soil structure, if mixed in as you plant new materials
    • attracts earthworms
  • Why you should do it?  RE-READ the list above!-2
  • Labor intensive?
    • NO…once you’ve laid it down your garden is EASIER to care for and looks WONDERFUL!
  • How will it help the garden?  AGAIN, RE-READ the list above!

What’s not to like???-4

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