August at Finch Frolic

Black Beauty zucchini.

This year Finch Frolic has been particularly beautiful. Of course, this year we had to close down throughout the spring. Fortunately we’ve been able to reopen for limited-capacity tours with safeties in place. However, I really miss sharing how lovely the garden is, and I want to let you have a little tour right in your home.

Little Marvel Popcorn. It tastes so good!

These photos were taken this morning before the temperature rose; its in the 90’sF here today, in North San Diego County. I apologize for the phone camera, as my good camera is in for repair. I only wish that you could also smell the moist mulch from the light overnight dew, or hear the clug-clug of the crow, the tittering of a flock of bushtits and the scuttling of lizards through leaves, which I experienced as I walked around the garden. All of these friends and so many hundreds more are working the garden today and every day, keeping it in balance.

A blue dasher dragonfly, one of many species that patrol for insects all over our property. Their larvae in our ponds look like little dragons, and they eat mosquito larvae as well. Watercress behind.

Our food forest is a low-water-use garden, on poor soil, using no additives to the ground other than occasional compost. There are no herbicides, pesticides or other factory-made chemicals used here, and there are two of us who care for the garden. Most of the seasonal beauty this year is due to the diligence of my daughter Miranda who took seed sprouting to a whole new level even before the pandemic arrived. We rely heavily on the insects, birds, lizards, frogs, soil and water microbes and creatures to do all the work protecting the plants, and the plants themselves to create good soil. All we add is a low dose of salty well water which the humus cleans, and leaves or sheet mulch on top. Our fruit trees receive a dose of blender compost once in awhile. Miranda and I hope that these photos bring you peace and lift your spirits, and that knowing you are looking at a safe habitat that is thriving with life gives you a feeling of security as well. It can be done. Permaculture must be done. Best of health! Diane

From the driveway looking down the main pathway into the garden.
Lorenziana Gaillardia, to feed the pollinators.
Rock steps cross the large rain catchment basin. Sycamore leaves protect the soil from the heat.
Our new orchard, with beans trained up a teepee over a fruit tree, and tomato cages behind.
Our old Ca. Live Oak. Oaks are home to over 300 species of bird and insect.
Our jasmine-covered gate in the sun.
Resting place, made from recycled wood.
Figs! Panache Striped Tiger.
Dawn through the birch trees, with Naked Lady amaryllis blooming behind the blackberries.
Our small bamboo bridge next to our little pond.
Dawn through an olive tree.
A native mallow wildly blooming over a bamboo footbridge Miranda just built.
Black Krim.
A plant guild combines plants with different functions for the benefit of all.
The Torch Tithonia is over 5′ tall, and butterflies and birds love it. A plum, squash and orange tree in the foreground.
We pollarded our willow trellis in January, and these tall interesting limbs are waiting for some creative project to arise.
Kabocha squash.
An army worm taking a sleep in a mallow flower.
We grow the timber bamboo, and eat it, too!
This beauty is a carrot, Lunar White, allowed to go to seed. Gorgeous and great food for our tiny native insects.
Lorenziana Gaillardia.
Straw flower and carrot.
Apples do very well in hot weather. Cripps Two.
Red Kuri squash vine past the seating.
A whole mess of Naked Ladies!
Tall Double Mix strawflowers, (Helichrysum bracteatum).
The Withy Hide, or willow hut.
Hard to believe that these massive trees grew so quickly. It has everything to do with water capture in the soil.
This stump has personality! Brachychiton rupestris, Australian Bottle Tree.
The leaf cover makes this rain catchment basin look full.
California sycamore, 8 years old.
A covered bridge over the rain catchment system.

Pathways Can Help Your Garden!

A finished section.

A finished section.

Footpaths and/or vehicle access paths are absolutely necessary for any yard.  Unfortunately, weeds love growing in them.  Worse, the pressure from footfalls, wheelbarrows and vehicles compress and compact the soil, pressing the soil grains together so tightly that oxygen – and therefore life – can’t exist often up to several inches or more deep.  Any life, that is, except for the grasses and other weeds that nature sends in to help repair the soil.  Bare ground will be greatly compacted by rainfall, which will then erode paths as it runs, unable to soak through that spaceless ground. Once wet bare pathways are often unwalkable until they dry out, and have to be resmoothed. In our hot, dry areas, bare earth or graveled pathways reflect heat and light back up.  That reflected heat and light dries out the underside of plant leaves, where species such as Live Oaks have over the millennium developed leaves that curl to expose less surface to the hot sun and to gather moisture underneath.  Reflected heat and light dries out the air as well, and any hope of slight humidity to help water plants through months of dry heat is gone.  If you have open-pollinated vegetables that rely on breeze for pollination, all that open pathway actually decreases your germination because pollen – such as from corn – will dry out in arid conditions.  Humidity that you can keep in your garden will keep pollen more viable longer.

A wealth of freshly chipped wood - two dump-trucks full!  The challenge: to spread it all in a week before our first tour.  Yikes!

A wealth of freshly chipped wood – two dump-trucks full! The challenge: to spread it all in a week before our first tour. Yikes!

What to do?  Covering pathways with gravel is a common solution.  I hate gravel.  It heats up and becomes a thermal mass in the summer, further cooking your soil and air.  It doesn’t suppress weeds and weed-whipping becomes an exercise in avoiding shrapnel.  You can never get it out of the ground once you apply it, and chunks of gravel don’t do soil much good for planting.  If you trip and fall on gravel it does terrible things to your knees – I had a piece lodged in my kneecap after a stumble some years ago (sorry for that cringe-worthy item).

A 1/2 inch of cardboard or newspaper  with mulch on top.

A 1/2 inch of cardboard or newspaper with mulch on top.

Covering the soil is better, but not best. Bark will help rain bounce and then percolate, is dark so it won’t reflect light and heat as gravel does, and it decomposes.  It is also expensive to buy, and because it decomposes you have to re-buy it every couple of years.  Decomposing bark may be adding elements to your soil that you don’t want depending upon the source.

More progress as the afternoon wears on.

More progress as the afternoon wears on.

I have experienced all the options above. The best method of countering all these issues that I have found also repurposes and recycles. Sheet mulch.  Yep.  You’ve heard it from me before and it proves itself every year.  There is more to it, though.

I disturbed a couple of nesting mice in one of  the unused Kenya bee  hives.

I disturbed a couple of nesting mice in one of the unused Kenya bee hives.

First of all, please, please, please never use plastic.  You can read about white pollution and the layers of plastic merging with topsoil in China and cringe.  Plastic will not last.  It will always be around in pieces. You will be poisoning your soil.IMG_6460

At the most basic, you can cover your pathways with 1/2″ of cardboard and newspaper, and top it with wood chips.  I obtain my wood chips  from arborists who save paying a dump fee by dumping it in my yard.  If you’d rather have a more uniform look then purchase your bark.  Either way the cardboard and newspaper will make the chips last years longer.  More importantly the cardboard and newspaper form a protective, absorbent layer that protects the soil from compaction.  Have you looked under a log or sheet of abandoned plywood in awhile?  All the white tendrils of fungus, insects, worms, lizards and roots are thriving there along with billions of soil microbes all because they have that protective layer that keeps moisture in and compaction out.  That microclimate is what you are forming with cardboard and mulch pathways. Since microbes free up the nutrients in the soil from which plants feed, you are creating more food sources for your plants. Tree and plant roots don’t end at the dripline, they reach out towards whatever source of water and nutrition they can find.  If you are top-watering rather than deep-watering, then roots are abundant closer to the topsoil.  By sheet mulching pathways you are extending food sources for your plants and trees, which now can stretch underneath the paths, link together with other roots through fungal networks, and become stronger and healthier.  You also are creating habitat which is a food source for the entire food chain.  Cooler, humid areas are better for bees and insects that pollinate, and the predators that feed upon them such as lizards, toads, frogs and birds.  Just by sheet-mulching your pathways you are improving your environment as a whole.  How can you NOT want to do this?

Sheet mulching around trees  is much the same, except you add a little manure or compost tea if you have it.

Sheet mulching around trees is much the same, except you add a little manure or compost tea if you have it.

Sheet mulched pathways hold moisture and create some humidity which allows for better pollination and helps keep your plants from scorching in arid areas.  If you live in a wet area or very humid area, use thicker layers of cardboard and mulch, which will help absorb moisture from the air and deliver it to the ground.  Decomposition is quicker in wet areas, so using several inches of cardboard with mulch will last much longer and will again keep  down compaction.  Compaction in rainy areas is just as bad as in arid areas because of the erosion and flooding it causes.

More progress as the afternoon wears on.

More progress as the afternoon wears on.

To catch rainwater and allow it to percolate into the soil rather than erode away topsoil, you dig rain catchment basins or swales.  Swales are ditches with level bottoms, and can be a foot  long (fishscale swales) or the length of your property. Swales should be positioned perpendicular to the flow of water.  You can create swales across pathways, fill them with mulch, top them with cardboard or old plywood, and mulch on top to match the rest of the pathway.  Water will be caught in the swales and won’t wash out paths on hillsides.

MIranda working on a large pathway near our large hugelbed.

MIranda working on a large pathway near our large hugelbed.

Going a step farther, you can ‘hugel swale’.  Hugelkultur  is layering woody material with dirt. This introduces organic material, oxygen and nutrient pathways into the soil and holds moisture into the dry season.  You can dig deeply in your pathways, layer old wood (sticks, branches, logs, whatever you have) with the dirt, up to soil level, then sheet mulch.  Your pathways are now waterharvesting alleys that you can walk on, and which will really feed your plants.  And you just repurposed old woody cuttings.

This mulch will greatly help the Asian pears  and cherries which struggle with the dry heat of the summer.  The ground will be kept moist and reduce evaporation, holding in humidity.  We'll be planting more heavily in  this area, too.

This mulch will greatly help the Asian pears and cherries which struggle with the dry heat of the summer. The ground will be kept moist and reduce evaporation, holding in humidity. We’ll be planting more heavily in this area, too.

 

In very dry areas plants and trees do better in sunken beds, especially those that require a long chill time.  Cold settles in holes.  Moisture runs downhill, therefore dew will accumulate at the bottom of holes.  You can either plant in holes and have your pathways higher, or if you have an established garden (such as I do) you can build up your pathways so that they become slightly higher than your trees and planting areas.  We are working on that at Finch Frolic Garden, here in drought-stricken San Diego county.

So before I launch into yet another long lecture, the idea for pathways is simple: sheet mulch with cardboard and wood chips.  If you live in a wet area, use several inches of both.  If you live in a dry area, use no more than 1/2 inch of cardboard (or else it will absorb moisture from the soil) topped by at least an inch of mulch (no limit there!).  If you want make super pathways, bury woody material before you sheet mulch.  If you live in a dry area, raise your pathways above your planting beds.  If you live in a wet area, lower your pathways so water can drain away from your plants (unless they love wet feet).  Never use plastic, and please rethink gravel.

Then sit back and enjoy your yard and all the food and nutrients and abundance you have set the stage for, all using recycled materials that will last for years.  Congratulations!