In most ecosystems that offer easy food for humans, the ground needs to be covered. Layers of leaves, organic matter from animals (poo, fur, carcasses, meal remains, etc.) , dropped branches and twigs, fallen flowers and fruit, and whatever else gravity holds close to the earth, compost to create soil and retain water and protect the soil from erosion and compaction. Areas that don’t have this compost layer are called deserts. If you want to grow an assortment of food for humans, you have to start building soil. Even in desert communities where there are some food plants growing, such as edible cactus, mesquite beans, etc., there is biodiversity on a more microscopic scale than in old growth forests. In deserts the soil needs to absorb what little rain there is and do it quickly before it evaporates, and plants have leaves adapted to have small leaf surfaces so as not to dry out, and there are few leaves to drop. Whereas in areas where there are large forests the weather is usually wetter, tall plants and thick underbrush provide multiple layers of protection both on the plants and when they fall to layer the earth.
A quick way to build soil in plant guilds is to design for plants that will cover the ground. This isn’t necessarily the same groundcover as you would use to cover embankments. For instance, iceplant can be used in a pinch, but it really isn’t the best choice in most plant guilds unless you are in a very dry climate, and your plant guild is mostly desert-type plants: date palm, etc. Annuals can be squash or other aggressive food-producing vines such as unstaked tomatoes. However you don’t need to consider just ground-hugging plants; think sprawling shrubs.
When guests tour through Finch Frolic Garden, they often desire the lush foresty-feel of it for their own properties, but have no idea how to make it happen. This is where what I call ‘placeholder plants’ come in. Sprawling, low-cost shrubs can quickly cover a lot of ground, protect the soil, attract insects, often be edible or medicinal, be habitat for many animals, often can be pruned heavily to harvest green mulch (chop-and-drop), often can be pruned for cuttings that can be rooted for new plants to use or to sell, and are usually very attractive. When its time to plant something more useful in that area, the groundcover plant can be harvested, used for mulch, buried, or divided up. During the years that plant has been growing it has been building soil beneath it, protecting the ground from compaction from the rain. There is leave mulch, droppings from lizards, frogs, birds, rabbits, rodents and other creatures fertilizing the soil. The roots of the plant have been breaking through the dirt, releasing nutrients and developing microbial populations. Some plants sprawl 15′ or more; some are very low-water-use. All of this from one inexpensive plant.
Depending upon your watering, there are many plants that fit the bill, and most of them are usable herbs. Scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.), lavender, oregano, marjoram, culinary sage, prostrate rosemary, are several choices of many plants that will sprawl out from one central taproot. Here in Southern California, natives such as Cleveland sage, quail bush (which harvests salt from the soil), and ceanothus (California lilac, a nitrogen-fixer as well), are a few choices. Usually the less water use the plant needs, the slower the growth and the less often you can chop-and-drop it. With a little water, scented geraniums can cover 10 – 15 feet and you can use them for green mulch often, for rooted cuttings, for attracting insects, for medicine and flavoring, for cut greenery, for distillates if you make oils, etc.
Groundcover plants shouldn’t be invasive. If you are planting in a small guild, planting something spreading like mint is going to be troublesome. If you are planting in larger guilds, then having something spreading in some areas, such as mint, is fine. However mint and other invasives don’t sprawl, but produce greenery above rootstock, so they are actually occupying more space than those plants that have a central taproot and can protect soil under their stems and branches. Here at Finch Frolic Garden, we have mint growing freely by the ponds, and in several pathways. Its job is to crowd out weeds, build soil, and provide aromatherapy. I’d much rather step on mint than on Bermuda grass, and besides being a superb tea herb, the tiny flowers feed the very small bees, wasps and flies that go unsung in gardens in favor of our non-native honeybees (there are no native honeybees in North America).
Here’s a general planting tip: position plants with fragrant leaves and flowers near your pathways for brush-by fragrance. You should have a dose of aromatherapy simply by walking your garden path. Mints are energizing, lavenders calming, so maybe plan your herbs with the pathways you take in the morning and evening to correspond to what boost you need at that time.
Consider groundcover plants and shrubs that will give you good soil and often so much more.
Next up: Vining Plants.
You can find the entire 9-part Plant Guild series here: Plant Guilds: What are they and how do they work? The first in a series. , Plant Guild #2: Canopy , Plant Guild #3: Sub-Canopy , Plant Guild #4: Nitrogen-Fixers, Plant Guild #5: Mining Plants, Plant Guild #7: Vines, Plant Guild #8: Insectiaries, Plant Guild #9: The Whole Picture.
Our sixty degree weather here in Fallbrook, CA , gave us the opportunity to work in our garden. A year ago – 2014 – it snowed on New Year’s Eve. This year the nights are frosty, the days mercifully warmer, and the rain frustratingly rare. Our promised El Nino rains are expected to hit in force within the next couple of months. Weather they do or not, focusing on catching every precious drop in the soil, and protecting the ground from erosion and compaction, is paramount.
The last day of 2015 Miranda and I spent working one of our vegetable garden beds, and reshaping our kitchen garden. When we redesigned this garden by removing (and burying) the raised beds, hugelkulturing and planting, we made a lovely Celtic design.
However the plants just won’t respect the design, so we’ve opted to lessen the pathways, turning the beds into keyhole designs for more planting space. I’ll blog more about that in the future. Because the pathways have been covered in cardboard and woodchips (sheet mulched), the soil below them is in very good shape, not dry and compacted.
This bed has been home to sweet potatoes and various other plants, so although I try to practice the no-dig method, where you have root vegetables you must gently probe the soil for goodies. We left some of the roots, so sweet potatoes will again rise in this bed.
We planted in rows. Usually I mix up seeds, but this time I wanted to demonstrate polyculture in row form. We planted three rows of organic potatoes (purchased from Peaceful Valley Organics), with a row of shallots between them. Between the root vegetable rows we planted a row of fava beans, and a row of sugar pod peas. Around the edges Miranda planted rows of bull’s blood beets, Parisienne carrots, and maybe some parsnips. This combination of plants will work together in the soil, following the template of a plant guild. We left the struggling eggplant, which came up late in the year after the very hot summer and has so far survived the light frost.
On top of the bed we strew dead pond plants harvested from our small pond near our house, which will be receiving an overhaul soon (hopefully before the Pacific chorus frogs start their mating season in force). We didn’t water the seeds in, as there is rain predicted in a few days. The mulch on top will help protect the seeds from hungry birds.
A good way to spend the last day of the year: setting seeds for food in the spring.
Then on January 1 I decided it was a good opportunity to clear out the excess pickerel that had taken over our lower small pond. With the well off for the winter, and very light rainfall, this pond has gone dry. A perfect opportunity for me to get in there with a shovel, especially knowing that I already had a chiropractor’s appointment set for Monday (!).
The mud was slick and spongy, but not unsafe, and not nearly as smelly as I had anticipated. Pickerel is not a native to San Diego, but it is a good habitat pond plant and it has edible parts. I wasn’t tempted, however. Its roots are thick and form a mat several inches thick hiding rhizomes that are up to an inch in diameter. I’d cut into the mass from several sides, pull the mass out with my gloved hands and throw the heavy thing out of the pond. Its good to be in contact with the earth, in all its forms. I couldn’t think of a better way to use the holiday afternoon.
I moved at least a ton of material in four hours. Just before sunset I decided that I was done. About an hour before that, my body had decided that I was done, but I overrode its vote to finish. I left some pickerel for habitat and looks, and will try to contain it by putting some sort of a physical barrier along the roots, such as urbanite.
We also might harvest some of the silty clay for use in the upper pond, although the prospect of carting heavy wet mud uphill isn’t as appealing as it might sound. That needs to happen today or tomorrow, as the aforementioned rain is expected, and I want to fill this pond again for the frogs.
One good thing about the pond going dry is that there are no more mosquito fish (gambuzia) in it. Mosquito fish are very invasive, and love to eat frog’s eggs and tadpoles far better than they do mosquito larvae. When the pond fills with non-chemically treated water (rain and well water), some of the microscopic aquatic creatures will repopulate the water. I’ll add some water from the big pond as well to make sure there are daphnia and other natural water friends in it, which will do a much better job at mosquito control without sacrificing our native frogs. I can’t get all the gambuzia out of our big pond, but at least they are out of the other two. Once dragonflies start in again, their young will gladly eat mosquito larvae.
So here on the morning of the second day of 2016, I lay in my warm bed prior to rising to start the chores of the day, stiff as an old stiff thing as my body adjusts to strenuous manual labor again, looking forward to more gardening duties to prepare Finch Frolic Garden for the reopening March 1, and for the rains.
The best part of heavy gardening duties is that I can finish off the Christmas cookies guilt-free!
Two podcasts with me talking about permaculture, Finch Frolic Garden, and how you can save money and the world through gardening! 🙂 Please let me know what you think:
This is a podcast with Sheri Menelli of earthfriendlyhomeowner.com, where I talk pretty much without a pause for breath for about the first ten minutes. Recorded in May, 2015.
This is a podcast with Greg Peterson of Urban Farm Podcasts, released Jan. 7, 2016, and you can listen to it several ways:
Urban Farm U:
You can sign up for free to hear all their great podcasts here.
In the last post we explored one way plants take nitrogen out of the air and fix it in the soil. Now we’ll explore how plants take nutrients from deep in the soil and deliver them to the soil surface. This is another way that plants create high nutrient topsoil.
All rooted plants gather nutrition from the soil, store it in their leaves, flowers and fruit, and then create topsoil as these products fall to the ground. Every plant is a vitamin pill for the soil. When you pull ‘weeds’, clear your garden, prune and otherwise amass greenery and deadwood, you are gathering vitamins and minerals for your soil. Bury it. All of it. If its too big to bury, then chip it and use it as top mulch. Allow that nutrition to return to the soil from whence it came. No stick or leaf should leave your property! Period.
There are mainly two kinds of root systems: fibrous (like many grasses) and taprooted. Some taprooted plants grow very deeply. Those plants that are deemed ‘mining’ plants go the extra mile. I envision mining plants as the gruff gentlemen of the plant guild: tough and weathered, dressed in pith helmet and explorer clothes with a larger-than life character and a heart of gold.
Okay, too many old movies on my part. The roots of mining plants are large taproots that explore the depth of the soil searching for deep water. Depending upon the size of the plant, these roots can break through hardpan and heavy soils. They create oxygen and nutrient channels, digging tunnels that weaker roots from less bold plants and soft-bodied soil creatures can follow. When these large roots die they decompose deep in the ground, bringing that all-important organic material into the soil to feed microbes. Meanwhile these Indiana Jones’s of the root world are finding pockets of minerals deep in the soil – far below the topsoil and where other roots can’t reach – and are taking them into their bodies and up into their leaves. When these leaves die off and fall to the ground they are a super rich addition to the topsoil. Often the deep taprooted plants have a sharp scent or taste. Many weeds found in heavy soils are mining plants, sent by Mother Nature to break up the dirt and create topsoil. Dicotyledonous (dicot) plants have deep taproots, if you are into that kind of thing. The benefits of a plant having a deep taproot is not only to search for deep water, but to store a lot more sugar in the root, be anchored firmly, and to withstand drought better.
So who are these helpful gentlemen adventurers of the plant guilds? Comfrey and artichoke are two commonly used mining plants. Also members of the, radish, mustard, and carrot family such as, parsnip, root celery, horseradish, burdock, parsley, dandelion, turnip, and poppy to name a few. There is also milkweed (Asclepias), coneflower, chicory, licorice, pigeon pea, and for California natives there is sagebrush, Matilija poppy, oaks, mesquite, Palo Verde and many more. Most deep taprooted plants don’t transplant well because their straight taproot is often much longer than the top of the plant. Check out a sprouted acorn. The taproot is many times as deep as the top is high.
Yet some mining plants such as comfrey and horseradish can be divided or will sprout from pieces of the root left in the ground. Deep taprooted weeds seem to all be like that, at least on my property!
Now for a little comfrey prosthelytizing: Comfrey keeps coming back when chopped, so it is often grown around fruit producing trees to be chopped and dropped as a main fertilizer. Its leaves are so high in nutrition that they are a compost activator, an excellent hen and livestock food (dried it has 26% protein), and have been heavily used in traditional medicine. Also called Knitbone, the roots contain allantoin, a substance also found in mother’s milk, which among other benefits helps heal bone breaks when applied topically.
The plant also has flowers that bees and other insects love. It spreads by seeds as well as divisions, and non-permaculture gardeners don’t like it escaping in their gardens. I only wish that mine would spread faster, to create more fertilizer. Comfrey grows the best greens with some irrigation and better soil, so it is perfect for use around fruit trees.
So when planting a guild you can easily plant miners that are edible. If you harvest those deep taproots, such as carrots or parsnips, then be sure to trim the greens and let them fall on the spot, so the plant will have done its full duty to the soil. Unless the plant can take division, such as the aforementioned comfrey, then planting seeds are best. Deep taprooted plants in pots are often stunted and either don’t survive transplanting well, or will take a long time to grow on top because they need to grow so much on the bottom first.
Next up: the exciting groundcover plants!
You can find the entire 9-part Plant Guild series here: Plant Guilds: What are they and how do they work? The first in a series. , Plant Guild #2: Canopy , Plant Guild #3: Sub-Canopy , Plant Guild #4: Nitrogen-Fixers, Plant Guild #6: Groundcover Plants, Plant Guild #7: Vines, Plant Guild #8: Insectiaries, Plant Guild #9: The Whole Picture.
It is estimated that 97% of California’s wetlands are gone. Gone. About two-thirds of that remaining 3% is dysfunctional and polluted. In Los Angeles, only 1% of wetlands remain. We have constructed our properties to drain precious rainwater and even irrigation water into culverts and out to the ocean, rather than collect it in our soil where it belongs. All the riparian animals, from specialized aquatic microbes and fungi up to large mammals, have gradually all but disappeared. What we have instead of wetlands are millions of chlorinated swimming pools, lined ponds and bird baths. Although we may believe that these help animals, the treated water is weakening and killing them with chemicals when they are desperate enough to drink from them, and offer no shelter or food source.
Dr. Bob Lloyd of Pura Vida Aquatics, a Southern California-based business, has spent the last 20 years maintaining ponds chemical-free. “Algicide will kill aquatic microbes, and hurt hummingbirds and all the other creatures that drink it,” he says. To help offset some of the loss of wetlands Dr. Lloyd converts swimming pools into swimming ponds that are cleaned with plants and fish rather than with chemicals.
You may see photos of some methods of pool conversions on the Internet that look fantastic, but really are expensive and drastic, and hard to maintain. They require the draining (and waste) of the 22,000 gallons (more or less) of pool water, the altering of the pool itself by building a cement planting bed along the inside and the filling of that bed with a large amount of gravel. Plants are set in the gravel and after refilling a pump sends water through this system to clean it. The gravel would need to be cleaned over time, which would mean draining water again and hauling out a ton of slimy gravel, and buying new.
Dr. Lloyd’s system is far less expensive, not invasive to the pool structure at all and is easily removable if years down the road the system is no longer desired. His system is unique and is the product of his PhD in microbiology and his decades of experience working with natural ponds. The plants that are installed are outside of the pool and can have a look that goes with the surrounding vegetation. Even aquatic edibles can be experimented with, such as watercress, water chestnuts and more.
Installing plants inside a pool can be done without changing the pool structure if the pool isn’t going to be used for swimming, or only for gentle laps. The reason is that the splashing water and waves from vigorous swimming is very hard on plants. Many plants die from having too much water on their leaves, and from being battered against the sides of the pool. Using Dr. Lloyd’s method of external decorative plants the pool has the ambiance of a pond and the usability of a regular swimming pool. And you can still swim with koi and other fish! How cool is that?
Converting your pool or pond takes a little patience as the biology develops; do you remember the adage that you can’t rush Mother Nature? The evolution of a pool conversion lasts several months. Watching the evolution of a chemical pool to a swimming pond is exciting. With the absence of chlorine, there is a natural algae bloom which turns the inside of the pool a bright, beautiful green. The algae help clear the water of harmful chemicals. As the water is routed through plants, some of the aquatic creatures that balance a pond are added from a local source. As the water clears, fish are added. The fish eat the algae so there are no fuzzy green threads growing up from the bottom or floating on the surface. Fish can be added within weeks of the start of the project. “Its like managing a 20,000 gallon fishtank,” Dr. Lloyd grins.
Immediately the changes to the environment are apparent. Dragonflies, butterflies, hummingbirds and many more creatures desperate for truly clean (chemical-free) water are attracted to the water and the plants.
“I have clients who tell me how excited they are to see so many birds, insects and lizards in their yards that they’d never seen before,” Dr. Lloyd relates about his converted ponds. “Finding (native) Pacific chorus frogs around the ponds has been very fun.” Some of his clients have become active bird watchers as the wildlife come to ponds that he manages.
Best of all, you can swim with the fish and have no red eyes, green hair or other bad reactions to the harsh chemicals. The plants phytoremediate the water as it is pumped through the planting beds. Children can dangle their feet in the pond without fear of absorbing algicide and other harsh chemicals through their skin.
Because we are in a drought, people believe that drying out their pond or pool is necessary. No! Pools evaporate far less water than irrigated lawns and landscapes. What does evaporate helps hold humidity around your plants, something which our drying climate is eliminating. Humidity keeps pollen viable and helps trees and plants survive the lack of rainfall. If you convert your pool and/or pond to a chemical-free one, then it is now supplying habitat to creatures further taxed by dried-up water supplies. What’s more, your pool which isn’t attractive and is rarely used, which must be doctored with chemicals weekly, can be converted into something that benefits wildlife year-round, is interesting to watch all the time, and needs absolutely no chemicals.
Pools are also excellent catchment basins for rain. Instead of buying a large water tank, divert your roof water to your pool and allow the plants to clean it. Then you can use that water at any time during the year for watering plants – with chlorine- and chloramine-free water. In permaculture, everything should have at least three purposes. By converting your pool you can have a free rain-catchment system, a water cleaning system, a safe recreation area, a pleasing view, and some habitat, all while saving money and reducing your carbon footprint and reducing your water bill. How can you not do it?
A converted pool does require weekly maintenance, but not the usual kind with chemicals and cleaners. I remember having to clean the family’s pool when I was growing up and testing the pH, even though we didn’t swim very often. It wasn’t fun. The maintenance on a chemical-free pond consists of checking on the pump, the caring for the plants and fish, and insuring that the clarity of the water and the product is satisfying to the customer. The ecosystem evolves and must be watched. It also costs a fraction of what a pool cleaner charges.
If you have a pond or pool that is on a chemical system, consider a conversion. You’ll spend far less money, have far more entertainment, decorative and educational value, have safe water for your family and wildlife to enjoy, will be helping the environment by not supporting harmful chemicals and by helping off-set the millions of acres of wetlands that are gone.
Dr. Lloyd estimates that he’ll need to convert 1.6 billion swimming pools to offset all the wetlands that have been drained and paved over in California alone. How can it be done?
“One pool at a time,” he smiles.
You can find out about pool and pond conversions by contacting Dr. Bob Lloyd at Pura Vida Aquatics, 310- 429- 8477 http://www.PuraVidaAquatic.com. He has accounts from San Diego through Los Angeles, and can consult elsewhere.
Here in Southern California, as in many other areas, we are finally legally recognizing the drought. There are rebates in place for those who take out their lawns, and here in Fallbrook there is a 36% water reduction goal. Many people just don’t know what to do with all that lawn. A very unfortunate continuing trend is to dump half a ton of colored gravel on it. Please! NO! First of all, once down gravel is nearly impossible to get out again. Gravel, like all rocks, is thermal mass. Instead of having a large rock heating up and radiating out heat, with gravel there are tens of thousands of surfaces radiating out heat and reflecting light and heat back up. It is the worst kind of hardscape. All that reflected heat and light heats up your home, making you use your air conditioner more frequently which is a waste of energy, and also dries out the air around your home. Desertification reflects light and heat to a point where moist air moving over a region dries up. There is less rain, or no rain. Most trees and plants trap humidity under their leaves. Gravel reflects light and heat back up under those leaves and dries them out, sickening your plants and trees. Pollen travels farther on humid air; it can dry out quickly. If you are relying on pollination for good fruit set between trees that are spaced far apart, then having some humidity will increase your chances of success.
By laying gravel you are turning soil into rock-hard dirt, because microbial life cannot live closely under it. That robs any plants you have stuck into the gravel of the food they need from the soil, which is opened up through microbial activity. You are adding to the heat value of the hardscape around your house causing you to cook in the summer and use more air conditioning. You have reduced habitat to zero. You have added to global warming by reflecting more heat and light into the sky. Although gravel is permeable, usually the ground below it bakes so hard that rain doesn’t percolate. I’ve read sites that want to you increase the albedo effect by laying gravel. In the short term albedo helps cool the atmosphere, but as a result of too much reflected light dries everything out. Think of the dark coolness and dampness of forests… that are now bare ground.
What do you do with your lawn instead? There are many choices that are so much better for the earth and your quality of life. First step, cut swales on contour on any slopes for best rain harvesting. Flat lawn? Easier still. Turn your lawn into a beautifully landscaped lush native garden. I’m not talking about a cactus here and there, but a creation with the awesome native plants we have in Southern California. Some of them such as Fremontia can die with supplemental summer water!
There is a chocolate daisy that smells like chocolate. Oh yes. And how can you not want to plant something called Fairy Duster or Blue-Eyed Grass? A native landscape planted on soil that has been contoured to best catch and hold water, and amended with buried wet wood (hugelkultur), will give much-needed food, water and breeding grounds to countless birds, butterflies, native insects and honeybees.
Or put in a pond. Wait, a pond during a drought? Yes! Ninety-nine percent of California wetlands have been paved over, drained or are unusable. Where are all the animals drinking? Oh, wait, we are in the epicenter of extinction, mostly due to wetlands loss. There are very few animals left that need to drink. Those that are left have to take advantage of chlorinated water in bird baths and swimming pools. The microbially rich and diverse clean, natural water that fed and sustained life is just about gone. So what can you do? If you have a swimming pool, you can convert it either entirely to a pond, or into a natural swimming pool that is cleaned by plants.
Suddenly instead of having this expensive eyesore that you use only a couple of months a year and pour chemicals into year-round, you have a lovely habitat that you want to sit and watch, and even better, swim in safely without turning your hair green or peeling your skin. You don’t need to clean the pool all the time, and you don’t need to put in chemicals. If you are in the San Diego or Los Angeles area, call Dr. Robert Lloyd of PuraVida Aquatics for a consultation and conversion. If you don’t have a pool, then build one that is cleaned by plants and fish. You don’t need a filtration or oxygenation system because the biology does it all. Where do you get the water from to top off your pond?
Connect your pond to a lovely, planted stream that is connected to your laundry water or graywater system. You are buying water every day, so why not compost your water through phytoremediation and have a pond full of great healthy chemical-free water that is wonderful to look at and is an oasis for thirsty animals and insects?
Or install a food forest. With good soil building and rain catchment first, and planting in guilds with sheet mulch around trees and on pathways, you will be using a fraction of the water you pour on your lawn and yet harvest lots of food. Too much food? Share it with a food pantry!
Or start a veggie garden without digging any sod.
Layer cardboard, sticks, grass, food scraps, leaves, more grass, more food scraps, more leaves and top it with about 8 inches of good soil, then plant right in it! That lovely standing compost heap will slowly turn into good soil while killing the grass beneath and growing crops for you immediately.
If ridding yourself of a lawn just breaks your heart, then substitute the high-water use grasses for a native grass mix that is comparable. Look at S&S Seeds for prices or for seed choices. Water a few times with Actively Aerated Compost Tea using any rainwater you may have caught in those 50-gallon containers and your grass roots will travel so deeply that they will find groundwater. Check up on the work of soil microbiologist Dr. Elaine Ingham and see how easy AACT is to make and use.
There are so many alternatives to using gravel that aren’t expensive, that are an investment in your property and in reclaiming habitat while beautifying your home and saving money. So please, just say, “NO,” to the gravel. Tell a friend!!
Which one of these would you rather live in? Which do you think is better for the earth and for the future generations?
When planning a garden for lots of any size, be especially aware of vertical spaces. Have an unsightly fence? A wall that needs protection from the sun? A hot, bright patio? All of these areas are perfect for growing vertically.
For an existing wooden fence, string wires vertically or in a crossed pattern, depending upon what you will be growing. For a chain link fence… just plant! You can certainly grow annuals such as beans, squash and peas, but for perimeter fences I’d advise long-term plants that fill other functions as well. Heirloom climbing roses can cover a fence, create a barrier for trespassers, provide habitat, be ascetically pleasing, and provide edible flowers and vitamin C-rich hips. Remember that in permaculture everything should serve at least three purposes.
Passionvines are evergreen perennials with rampant growth and provide good crops of heavenly-smelling nutritious fruit, as well as being the host plant to the Gulf Fritillary caterpillar. Even the perennial scarlet or golden runner bean would provide you with food and flowers for about six years.
Do you have a cement porch or patio where the sun reflects heat and brightness into your house in the summer? Cover it with a simple trellis, sturdy enough to hold vines. There are many ornamentals that would work (wisteria, trumpet vine, virgin’s bower, morning glory, etc.), but think about passionfruit, kiwi or grapes. Outside a west-facing wall is a perfect place for a planted trellis, that will help cool that side of the house during the summer. The sides of sheds can be used vertically, either with simple wire that can be removed later or with wooden lath (preferably recycled).
If you have existing trees, use them as vertical space. One faction of a plant guild is a vine. Vines act as groundcover, shading the soil and retaining moisture while producing mulch. Vines also can grow up trees and help shade their trunks from weather extremes.
Meanwhile the fruit and vegetables are off the ground and won’t suffer the predation by animals or ground insects that it may normally receive. Plus, it is fun to see squash up in a tree.
A small fence around your kitchen garden is inexpensive, recyclable, keeps nibbling critters out, and can double the size of your growing space.
One project that I’d like to do this winter (just one? Ha!) is to nail up old rain guttering on the outside of my little shed and make a small natural pond at the base. I’d plant the gutters heavily with strawberries, and maybe greens, and then install a pump that circulated water from the pond up to and through the gutters. The water would then empty back into the pond. The fish and plants in the pond would be fed and happy, the plants in the gutters would be watered and fertilized, and I’d have unnibbled strawberries that were easy to pick, as well as repurposing the old gutters.
Please choose only organic, and if possible, heirloom seeds. It is so important to not poison the wildlife and ourselves with chemicals and plants whose DNAs have been tampered with to withstand more chemicals. I buy from Baker Creek (the catalog is to die for.), Seeds of Change, organics from Botanical Interests , from organic seed savers and from Peaceful Valley Organics (which have terrific prices on high-quality bare root plants such as strawberries!).
So when planning your next season’s garden, don’t just think outside of the box, but think of growing up the sides as well!
Normally tours of Finch Frolic Garden are held by appointment for groups of 5 – 15 people, Thursdays – Mondays. Cost is $10 per person and the tour lasts about two hours. By popular demand, for those who don’t have a group of five or more, we will be hosting Open Tour days for the first 15 people to sign up in August and September. They will be Sunday, August 10 and 24, Sept. 7 and 21, and Thursdays August 7 and 28, and Sept. 11 and 25. Tours begin promptly at 10 am. The tours last about two hours and are classes on basic permaculture while we tour the food forest. I ask $10 per person. Please reserve and receive directions through email@example.com. Children under 10 are free; please, no pets. Photos but no video are allowed. Thank you for coming to visit! Diane and Miranda
We’ve planted a lot of new varieties this year. Still there are seed packages left unopened! So much fun, though. One veggie that we bought from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is a beautiful radish called Chinese Red Meat Radish, or Watermelon Radish.
I’m not a huge fan of radishes. They grow quickly, help identify rows of slower-growing seeds, and are great for kids to plant. Still neither me nor my tummy really likes the strong radish flavor.
The Watermelon Radish, however, are large, crisp and sweet on the inside. My daughter cut them into small triangles and stir-fried them. They had a little of the bitter radish flavor, but if you expect that you will be delighted at the taste and color.
Younger ones have more of a starburst of red in the center. Older ones grow brilliantly red, set against the green outer skin, as dramatic as a dragonfruit.
Radishes are cool-weather plants; these I planted late but were shaded by vigorous volunteer currant tomatoes that are taking over the bed!
When planting annuals, plant your favorites but don’t forget to play. There are so many varieties of veggies, herbs and flowers available now, especially heirloom and organic (non-GMO!). Why not try some and share the seed with friends?