Tag Archives: garden

Friday Linkage 6/1/2018

June…where did spring and May go?

On to the links…

New Documents Show Why Scott Pruitt Wanted a “Campaign-Style” Media Operation—It would not be a week without some good ol’ Scott Pruitt corruption.

Solar Power To Become 4th Largest Electric Power Capacity In The World (Passing Up Wind)—There was a time when naysayers told us that solar power would never amount to more than a fraction of the world’s electrical generating capacity.  Of course, a lot of people also said that there was no way Donald Trump could actually become president.

US Offshore Wind Revolution Sets 5 Gigawatt Target In Massachusetts, Rhode Island, & New Jersey—Offshore wind in the United States might be nearing its snowball rolling downhill moment.  Once these projects are underway and the costs are booked a lot of people are going to realize that it is very economical to deploy these projects.

The Repowering Mission: Breathing New Life into Our Aging Wind Turbine Fleet—This is the untapped potential that no one is really talking about.  As old turbines hit the end of their usable and reliable life, say twenty years, new turbines can go up on these sites that make more power.

320 GW Of Non-Traditional, Untapped Rooftop Solar Potential In USA—A lot of roofs and other surfaces have not been exploited for solar photovoltaics.  Imagine if every warehouse, apartment building, and parking lot were covered with solar panels?

Europe is Building More Wind and Solar — Without any Subsidies—So the price is now competitive and future fuel is free.  That is going to be pretty tough to beat for coal going forward.

Oil-Rich Saudi Arabia is Turning to Another Resource to Power the Kingdom — Sunshine—The old saw is that X country will be the “Saudi Arabia of wind” or solar or whatever.  What is Saudi Arabia is the Saudi Arabia of solar?

The Oil Industry Is Finally Being Affected By Norway’s Electric Vehicle Adoption—This demand destruction is occurring with a relatively small number of EVs on the road and relatively low oil prices worldwide.  What would happen if gasoline goes to $5 a gallon in the U.S. and people start beating the street for Chevy Bolts?

Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not—When we put our stuff in a bin for collection each week it is not recycling.  It is harvesting.  The actual recycling takes place somewhere else where the trash is either actually sent to be turned into something else or just thrown away.  It now looks like China is not taking our garbage anymore, so all of our harvesting is really just taking out the trash.

Commutes on Foot or Bike Tied to Lowered Risk of Heart Attack or Stroke—You mean to tell me that if people get out and move that the likely health outcomes are improved?  Stunning.

How to Rewild your Garden: Ditch Chemicals and Decorate the Concrete—What if we all took the time to make our yards and garden a little more wild?

Saving Africa’s Wildlife—We killed the animals, so it is only right that we try and repopulate the landscape.

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Sad Side Yard Transformation

I have truly struggled with my southwest-ish facing side yard. It’s where my two compost bins are located because the afternoon sun really heats things up and it’s a convenient trip from the kitchen to dump scraps.

My first attempt to bring some life and color to this space was a series of butterfly bushes. Epic fail. After the first year I lost one of the bushes. I replaced the lost bush, but by the end of year two all of the bushes were dead. I cut them to the ground and let the bed lay barren for a year while I thought about what I wanted to do.

My second thought was to build a hop trellis and grow some hops for my homebrew. My recent reduction in beer drinking and the subsequent stoppage of homebrewing made that an irrelevant idea. Back to the drawing board. Here is what I was left to work with:

Sad Side Yard

Why not vegetables? Since vegetables are generally annuals I would not need to worry about losing plants to the inevitable winter wind. It’s not a bed that people spend a lot of time looking at, so the aesthetic value of flowering bushes is diminished. Hmmm…..

The first challenge was removing the god damned river rock and landscape fabric. Seriously, this stuff is the worst. The rock just retains heat and provides no benefit to the plants other than keeping weeds down. The landscape fabric actually lets water run off rather than percolating into the soil and it traps dirt on top where weeds eventually take root making the landscape fabric irrelevant. Ugh.

With that dirty, dusty job done things went pretty smoothly. The dirt in the bed was fairly rich, but I still amended it with heaping handfuls on compost and coconut coir. In went three cherry tomatoes, three paste tomatoes, two sweet peppers, two hot peppers, two edamame plants, and four cauliflower starts. A thick layer of shredded cypress mulch on top finished everything off:

Happy Side Garden

What was once a barren and sad side yard has become a vibrant little garden. The picture above is a somewhat dated as the tomato and pepper plants are really taking off with the perfect mix of rain and sun we have been getting in eastern Iowa this spring.

Now imagine how much food we could grow if every house in America just converted one neglected bed alongside their home into a small vegetable garden. Amazing potential.

Friday Linkage 5/16/2014

So, every time you hear a proponent of Keystone XL talk about the safety of oil pipelines witness the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale. In the wee hours of Thursday morning a pipeline burst sending tens of thousands of crude into the city streets. Yep, great safety record for those pipelines.

On to the links…

America’s Oil And Gas Industry Averaged At Least 20 Spills Per Day In 2013—Think about that average for a moment. It is stunning. There is no such thing as truly safe oil and gas drilling and transportation. It is inherently susceptible to spills and accidents.

This Is Your Country With 10 Feet Of Sea Level Rise—It looks like I am safe in eastern Iowa, but large portions of very populous cities in the U.S. are not so lucky.

Slow Exit of the Midwest’s Winter Buries Gardens in a Deep Freeze—The past winter was brutal and as those of us in the Midwest take stock in the spring it is not any prettier. At the moment I am down two trees, three butterfly bushes, and a shrub. Plus, the plants that did survive are slow to leaf out and bloom.

The Toxic Brew in Our Yards—It is a spring and summer ritual where I live to see the chemical trucks spraying lawns and leaving little signs that might as well say, “Toxic waste dump. Stay off the grass!”

How Large-Scale Solar Power Can Reduce Pressure On Farm Land—Just some interesting ideas about how to marry large scale solar with other land use. Anything that moves solar PV forward is a good thing in my book.

Pakistan’s First Solar Project Is One Of The World’s Largest—Damn, this is a big solar project. When a country like Pakistan is getting on board with solar you know that things are happening for the technology.

Germany Sets New Record, Generating 74 Percent Of Power Needs From Renewable Energy—Hot damn that is impressive. Just take a moment and think about what that would mean if every country were as committed to large scale renewables. Pretty sight indeed.

A Whale And A Cruise Ship Collided In New York Harbor—I kind of wondered about this possibility the one time I took a cruise. These boats are massive and there is no way for these boats to avoid whales if they cross paths. Ugh.

Garden Porn

It’s not fair.  The 2014 Seed Savers Exchange catalog hit my mailbox this week:

Seed Saver Catalog

Here’s the problem: spend a few minutes flipping through the catalog, jot down the seeds that look interesting, and then figure out just how many plants you want to put into the ground after the threat of frost is gone.  If you are like me you end up with something that would be on the scale on mini-farm as opposed to garden.

There’s Hop McConnel Speckled Corn, Jacob’s Cattle beans, Paris Market carrots, Two Inch Strawberry popcorn, and the list can go on for an entire page if I let it.  It’s not fair.  I want to spend my entire summer in a garden that encompasses my entire yard.  I want that garden filled with exotic varieties of plants that would surprise even the most intrepid gardener.  It really is garden porn.

For those of you who do not know, Seed Savers Exchange is an organization based in Decorah, Iowa that is dedicated to preserving open pollinated and heirloom fruit and vegetable varieties.  In Decorah the organization has a “heritage farm” that has a preservation garden, heirloom orchard, and even a rare herd of cattle grazing.  It is amazing how much gardening knowledge and biodiversity that Seed Savers is preserving in an era when that knowledge is being lost or consolidated into the hands of a few mega corporations.

I really encourage everyone to check them out or a similar organization closer to your home.  Be warned, however, that you may find yourself with one too many seed packets for your garden and spend the first few weeks of spring wondering how you can get around the city ordinance against front yard vegetable gardens.

The Hydrangeas were Positively Buzzing

With all of the bad news about the fate of bees in our modern world, it’s nice to see some pollinators just getting a chance to enjoy themselves for once without having to bear the weight of our food system on their shoulders:

Hydrangea Bees

In the front yard of my home I have three “White Diamonds” hydrangea bushes planted that seem to be like magnets for pollinators of all kinds.  I take great care to not treat any of the plants in my yard with pesticides or other chemicals that may make their way into the food chain of the pollinators because these little buzzers do not need any additional impediments.

The three bushes were almost buzzing with all of the activity the other day.  Dozens of bees, by my count, were flitting from bloom to bloom doing their thing.  It was a nice respite from the constant drumbeat of bad news.

Speaking of bad news about bees, I hope that the recent cover story in Time will bring some much needed national attention to the plight of pollinators.  For years I have watched as progressive publications and websites have talked about colony collapse disorder and neonicotinoid compounds with almost no audience at the national mainstream level.  It’s a mean scene.

It got me thinking about ways to help outside of making my yard and gardens a hospitable place for pollinators.  In the article in Time, it states some numbers about the decline of hives in the U.S. that are startling.  In 1946 there were an estimated 5.8 million bee colonies.  The estimated number of bee colonies in the U.S. is approximately 2.5 million at present.  This decline is generally attributed to the threat of foreign competition rather than any systemic health issue in the bee community.

So, if part of the problem is that the market for domestic honey is being impinged by cheap foreign honey it seems like a solution would be to support local honey suppliers.  I am not a big user of honey, but I think that I could work up a beer recipe that would utilize local honey.  Anything to help the bees.

DIY Mason Bee Homes

Mason Bee House Closeup

Pollinators are in trouble.  Colony collapse disorder has devastated bee populations.  Our national love affair with pesticides and insecticides has been a veritable holocaust for beneficial insects.  As a homeowner, part-time gardener, and all-around concerned person I felt it was my responsibility, perhaps duty, to build a habitat that was inviting to these insects that do so much for us humans.

The easiest thing that people can do to help out is to stop indiscriminately applying chemicals to our landscape.  Just because your lawn may be inhabited by ants and grubs is not license to conduct chemical warfare.  As a matter of principle, we should cease applying chemicals on our landscapes entirely because it is so wasteful.

Next, you can create inviting landscapes through the use of desirable plants.  I am a sucker for butterfly bushes and other showy perennials that butterflies and bees seem to love.  These plants tend to be drought tolerant and suited for my eastern Iowa climate, so all the better.

Lastly, I decided to create some homes for mason bees.  Mason bee is a generic name for a genus of bees (Osmia) that contains hundreds of different species.  In North America, according to Wikipedia, there are over 130 species.  Mason bees, unlike the more well-known European honeybee, are solitary and do not sting unless physically provoked.

One way to encourage mason bees to inhabit your yard is to make a “house” for these garden helpers.  You can search the internet and find hundreds of variations of mason bee house construction from painfully simple to bizarrely extravagant.  I am going to hew closer to the simple side of the spectrum with my construction because I prefer that aesthetic in my garden.

I started with a scavenged piece of 4×4 dimensional “white” wood lumber.  One key thing to remember when constructing your mason bee house is to avoid treated lumber at all costs.  You do not want to create an environment that actively kills the mason bees seeking to build a home in your yard.  I suppose you could use cedar or some other fancier wood to construct a house, but I liked the idea of using a scrap piece of wood.  My guess is that this was originally spruce or fir because of the smell when cutting the blocks and the lack of sap, which seems to be so prevalent on pine lumber.

I cut blocks that were approximately 8” tall and had a 10 degree slope cut on one end for the attachment of a board to act as a protective overhang:

Mason Bee Blanks

Again, I utilized a scrap piece of 1×6 pine dimensional lumber to construct the overhangs.  I simply nailed the overhang to the block with a trio of small nails.

Somewhere in my research, please let me know if anyone has a source, I read that a 5/16” hole is the perfect diameter for mason bees.  I do not know if this is true, but I am going to roll with the idea this time and see what happens.  Lacking a drill press, it took some time to drill all of the holes necessary for the house.

I was going to have more holes per block.  However, I quickly discovered that it would have weakened the wood block considerable.  So, I cut the number of holes in half and staggered them across the face of the block to create the environment for my soon-to-be garden friends.

Scavenging through my parts box and a friends bin of leftover plumbing supplies from many remodels of pre-World War II houses in eastern Iowa produced the perfect mounting system.  I kind of wanted a more industrial look to the houses than a simple wood stake would provide.  A pipe flange screwed to the bottom of the mason bee house and a two foot long piece of threaded black pipe were an ideal solution:

Mason Bee Flange

My hope is that over time the pipe rusts to a nice patina and I can easily reuse the pipe/flange combo by simply unscrewing it from the bottom of the house.

Amidst the butterfly bushes on my west facing garden bed these little houses look perfectly at home:

Mason Bee House Garden

The Fruit is Coming!

My tomatoes are starting to bear some fruit.  The Patio tomato was the first to tart fruiting out:

Patio Tomato FirstNext, the Tiny Tim tomato started to produce some beautiful clusters of green fruit:

Tiny Tim FirstIf I can just keep the dreaded hornworms away from my crop this year, I think I will be in the fruit so to speak.  Even my blueberries–victim of some grazing deer over the winter–have fruited out some:

Blueberry First ClusterFew things are as pleasurable as seeing plants you tend produce food that you can actually eat.  It’s a small miracle, at best, but I will take it.