Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Building a Bog Garden

I recently gave a speech to my local Toastmaster club about bog gardens and why someone might want to build one in their yard. The first question is always: what is a bog garden? Well, a bog garden is simply a small version of a swamp. Which leads me to the next obvious question: why on earth would anyone want a swamp in their yard????

Swamps are actually incredibly valuable pieces of our ecosystem. They are, essentially, the sewage treatment plants of our environment. Dirty wastewater filters into swamps where sediments drop out, chemicals are taken up and neutralized by plants, and water leaves the other end much cleaner than when it entered. We have traditionally taken these ares of our ecosystem for granted, often draining and filling them to make them more appealing. The smell can be pretty offensive at times, but imagine if all the world's waste runoff was hanging out in your backyard instead!

Having a bog garden in your backyard isn't going to solve the world's wastewater runoff problems because it's so small. So, what is the advantage of a bog garden? 

One major advantage of building a bog garden is that you can use it to turn a problem into a solution. If you have a boggy, wet area in your yard, instead of trying to fight with it, use it! Turn that area into a beautiful place for plants to grow. Solve a problem and grow something beautiful. Two birds with one stone.

The other obvious reason to grow a bog garden is the unique and exciting plants that you can plant in a bog garden! Many of these plants won't do well in a traditional dry garden, so they would need a boggy spot to live in. 

We have one such boggy spot in our yard. It is always water logged after rain, and stays so for many days. Instead of trying to fill it in, we decided to work with it. My husband boarded the area off for me earlier this year, and I finally got around to planting it this week.

Before:

After
 The bog garden will still need watering between rains, but it will be a great use of a soggy spot that will grow in and be much more beautiful later. I was gifted some pitcher plants and sundews last year, so they have been eagerly awaiting a new home. I also added a milkweed along the outskirts of the planter, and I plan to add a swamp hibiscus as soon as I can get one sprouted from seeds.

Many bog plants are actually carnivorous plants. I'd be remiss as a biologist if I didn't mention that carnivorous is actually a misnomer, since plants don't eat anything. These plants do break down and dissolve insects, and they then use the nutrients gained from the breakdown of the insects to grow.

Sarracenia, often called pitcher plant, has pitchers that fill full of acid. Insects are attracted to the sweet smelling liquid inside, crawl in, and then get trapped by the downward facing hairs in the pitchers. The acids inside the pitcher then dissolve the insects.
Sarracenia 'Carolina Yellow Jacket'

 Drosera, often called Sundews, extend long tendril like leaves covered with a sticky substance. Insects land on the sticky and get stuck. Then the plant can dissolve them.

Sundews



My kids are hoping I'll acquire some venus fly traps to add to the collection. What are your favorite carnivorous plants?

Friday, August 18, 2017

So you want to build a raised bed

Raised beds have grown in popularity in recent years. The definitive lines they create in the yard can really add to the aesthetic value of a garden. Many folks worry about what might be in their soil, so importing soil into a raised bed also has great allure. I haven't done a lot of raised beds myself, but I'm always excited to try something new.

I was recently at #gwa2017, and the fabulous folks at Smart Pots introduced me to their fabulous cloth raised beds! I didn't have a ton of room in my suitcase, so I only came back with the Big Bag Bed Mini. It's the perfect size for a small herb garden or, as I'm doing, a small fall veggie garden on the back deck!

I can't think of an easier raised bed to set up. Some of the wooden kits are fairly simple stick together and go, but the Big Bag Bed you just unfold and fill!


I filled my bed with Daddy Pete's Potting Mix. Daddy Pete's is made locally, about 20 minutes from my house, and I've always had great luck with their products. I also took the opportunity to try out my new DeWit trowel. It worked fabulously, and I can't wait to try it in some tougher digging!


Once I filled the bed, I filled it up with lots of seeds I received from the National Garden Bureau. I'm super excited for all of the greens, carrots, radishes, and beets to start growing.


I chose to set up my new bed right on the back deck. It will get plenty of sun there, but it will also be easy to access from the kitchen and when it needs water. Sometimes we all get daunted by the work needed to keep our veggies growing when they are far out in the yard. Here on the back deck, it will be easily accessible, and the bed won't need to be weed eated around. I can't wait until everything starts growing. Check back in the fall to see how it looks!

If you try out one of these great raised beds, shoot me a message and let me know how it's working for you!

I'd like to thank Smart Pots, National Garden Bureau, and DeWit tools for all of the supplies!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Top 3 reasons to visit Buffalo, NY Garden walk next year

I will start off by saying I did not want to go to Buffalo, NY! I didn't want to fly, I didn't want to go to NY again, and I didn't want to go to yet another conference. Boy, was I wrong. #GWA2017 really exceeded all expectations I'd had.

While I did have a major travel debacle with my flight being delayed and canceled several times, I was wrong about the rest.

If you haven't heard of the Buffalo Garden Walk, you need to check it out. So many great private gardens exist in Buffalo, and all those fine folks open them up to let you come and look. Look at the beauty, look at their ingenuity, look at their brilliant ideas.

Here are the top 3 reasons YOUshould visit the Buffalo, NY garden walk next year:

1. The amazing beauty! Buffalo is a charming city, with so many great gardens to explore. The scenery was breath taking, even from the highway!

Everywhere you go, the city has decorated landscapes, flowers, and beautiful architecture. The parkways were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, so even just driving around town is quite a delight!

2. The gardens!!! All of the open gardens around town offer such variety. No 2 gardens are the same. Each offers a completely different look at how to work around problems of small yards, low lighting, and pavement. Take a look at some of the great sights.

Arbors create great walkways to separate the road from the peaceful, serene garden-scape in the back.

Every inch of growing space can be utilized to create a landscape that pops with excitement.

Got water? Ponds can come in any shape or size and can be used to enhance garden spaces.

Entrance to a secret garden or just your favorite backyard stroll?

Why have a plain fence when you can have a fence that pops with color and spirit?

Colorblind? No problem! This colorblind gardener fills his garden each year with amazing color combinations.

Gardens can be busy or serene. You pick what suits your personality.

Small space between the neighbor's house? No problem, just use some vines to create a quiet nook.

City parks in Buffalo offer great views and recreational activities.

The Japanese garden in Buffalo offers stunning views that change as you move through the garden.

Walk or kayak to see great sights in the Japanese garden.

The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens also offer great indoor xeriscaping and specialty exhibits.

 
Buffalo gardeners are experts at using pots to enhance and expand gardening areas.

Trouble spot on the roots of old trees? Use sedums with shallow root systems to fill it with color.

There were so many great gardens and great gardening ideas that it was hard to pick favorites. Buffalo is a gardening paradise.

3. The people!!! All of the people that I interacted with in Buffalo, from the city bus drivers to the convention center staff to the volunteers for our trip, were amazingly friendly and helpful. Buffalonians really know how to show a crowd a good time. You will learn so many great stories and feel so welcomed by their friendly nature.

 If you ever get a chance to make it to garden walk in Buffalo, go check it out. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

How to sheet mulch a garden bed

Have you ever found yourself faced with a chunk of super dry, hard clay that you would love to plant something in? One of the easiest ways to build a usable soil in your bed is to sheet mulch. There are lots of recipes and descriptions out there on how to do it, but here's a quick overview with pictures of a bed we mulched last year for my kids to plant their veggie garden in.

One of the first steps is to review your soil test. Soil test? What's a soil test? Why do I need to take a soil test?

If you don't know what your soil is like where you plant your plants, you could be dropping them in a vat of acid, or base, or worse. The best way to know the conditions in your soil is to have a soil test done. In the state of NC, soil testing is free most of the year. Talk to your local cooperative extension to find out about soil testing in your area. They usually can help you interpret the report too!

This particular bed was extremely acidic, so the first thing we did was add some lime to bring the pH back up to a better level for plants to grow. Next, we chopped the weeds, but left them in place. We will be smothering them, so no need to kill or remove them completely.
  Then, we spread a thin layer of compost on top, just to encourage worms and other organisms to come on up and get active in the bed.
After the compost, we laid out thick corrugated cardboard, tape removed, to smother and kill all the growing plants and emerging weed seeds. We also watered the cardboard to get the layers good and moist. The cardboard not only acts as a natural weed killing layer, but it also decomposes over time into compost. Additionally, the use of old mailing boxes is a great reuse of a resource that might otherwise end up in the landfill! 


 After the cardboard, we layered as much leaves as we could fit into the bed. You can use any different type of bulk organic matter you can find, such as hay or leaves. I had the city bring me an entire truck load full of leaves from city leaf collection, so we used the free resources we had on hand. Another great way to recycle nutrients into the landscape!

Watering in your layers will help keep the moist and encourage decomposition. It takes a long time to get moisture in and out of that many layers, so water them in as you apply them. Try to build up your layers to a foot or more high. It will decompose down very quickly to a much smaller amount, and the more you start with, the more organic matter you will add to your soil!
 Near the last few inches of bulk material, we laid out another layer of compost. Home made compost is the best! Turning your kitchen scraps and landscaping trimmings into awesome nutrients for your yard is an awesome way to recycle nutrients for your own benefit.
 We filled the final layer in with more leaves, watered them in good, and left it there to decompose into a viable growing bed for us! Don't forget to add your garden flag or other decoration to spruce it up while it's working its magic.
It's just that easy. Overall, we worked probably around an hour. The hardest part was lugging our leaves one wheelbarrow at a time up the hill from where we had them stored. That, and keeping our patience up with two little ones underfoot wanting to spray each other with the water hose.

Resilience

If I were to sum up my gardening efforts for the past 2 years into one word, it would be: experimentation. Everyone you talk to has a completely different idea of how things "should" be done. I have decided over the years that what works great for one might not work for the next due to different location, but also because mentally we don't all process things the same. So, when someone tells me to do "this" in my yard or garden, if I don't interpret it properly, or my skills just don't fit that idea well, it still won't work for me. So, instead of doing much of anything suggested, I've been experimenting.

This year, my big experiment was with the winters in NC. We have notoriously mild winters these days, with only a few cold snaps here and there most years. So, I decided instead of a fall garden (let's be honest, I pretty much didn't have the time to get it started anyway), I'd run a winter garden. Yes, I got my plants in late. Yes, it's cold and the sun's rays are super far away. Whatever. Winter garden it is!

I knew there was a lot of gambling. Mild winter can mean many things, but would it be mild enough for my cold hardy veggies? 

Well, we were just struck with the giant snow storm of 2017. Just kidding. I think on many fronts it fell short of people's expectations, but we did receive a good 6+ inches of snow at our house. It took over 4 days to thaw off of my little garden plot out front. I impatiently awaited the results of how well my veggies would last without sun that many days, drenched in a heap of snow, and 2 nights with single digit temperatures.

Here we are. Resiliency. My lettuce and chard are both doing great, still kicking in the garden.


The point of all of this is: experiment in your garden, see what you can accomplish. Don't listen to other people's ideas of what you can and can't accomplish out there. 

Grow more food!