Tag Archives: tolerance

Hardscaping for the Future

In my yard I have a lot of trees. At the current count, which is going to change soon as I add a few more in various spots to finish my mini arboretum, I have thirteen trees representing six different species of tree. The downside is that all of the trees “required” some form of hardscaping around the base to provide protection from lawn mowers or string trimmers and to break up the monotony of the grass carpet called a lawn. I know that it is un-American to suggest this but vast landscapes of green grass are just boring.

Building planting beds around a tree also gave me an opportunity to bring some color into my yard and increase the water storage capacity of the soil through amendments. It’s not sexy, but if your soil can hold more water you will be thankful when the late summer temperatures start creeping up and nary a rain cloud is on the horizon.

Not long after we moved into our new house I moved the original street tree, so named because it is a required tree planted between the sidewalk and street, to the backyard. It was a boring autumn blaze elm that had been planted on every other house lot on the street. As if we had not learned from the over reliance on single species of trees with the onset of Dutch elm disease and the invasion of the emerald ash borer.

The maple just kind of got stuck in the backyard:

Tree Ring BeforeBoring. After about four hours of hacking through turfgrass, which had me questioning the logic of mowing my grass so high since the roots extend an equidistant amount below the surface making easy removal impossible, I was able to finally place the heavy rocks that formed the tree ring seen below:

Tree Ring AfterThe soil, which in my backyard is as sandy as a beach when you dig past the layer of top soil, was amended with coconut coir. A lot of people in eastern Iowa use peat moss as a soil amendment, but that comes with a whole host of environmental concerns related to the destruction of peat bogs for our gardens. Not gonna’ happen. Coconut coir is a byproduct of coconut production so it has fewer concerns about sustainability outside of the transportation costs. Regardless, it is a great way to increase the moisture carrying capability of sandy soils.

The real difference maker is the plants. I wanted to create a puzzle of color with low maintenance and drought tolerant plants. In a world potentially impacted by climate change—e.g. hotter and drier summers for those of us in eastern Iowa—we need to be very conscious about what we plant in our landscapes to ensure long term viability and resiliency.

I went with nine plants—three of each variety—to fill in the space. The plants are a “Purrsian Blue” catmint, dianthus “Kahori,” and “Desert Eve” yarrow.

The other benefit of all of these plants is that the pollinators seem to already love the little garden. Just the other day I saw at least three bees buzzing around. Gotta’ help the pollinators.

Rain, Sweet Rain

This past Sunday was a glorious day.  The temperature never crossed north of 75 degrees and it rained intermittently all day long.  When you are in the throes of an epic drought a day like that ranks right alongside a World Series victory for the Chicago Cubs.  Okay, maybe we have not gotten to that point quite yet.

With the cutoff for data being Tuesday of the current week, the rains from last night and this morning are not included.  Nonetheless, things have not gotten worse for my part of the country:

That is a small consolation when you are characterized as being in an “extreme” drought condition.  It also highlights the persistent nature of drought once it takes hold.  Even a week of good rain does nothing to ameliorate the dry conditions other than making the people living through the drought a little less crazy.

On the Mississippi River, which carries a lot of the commodity inputs for America’s agro-industrial machine, the water levels have gotten so low that barge traffic is restricted or halted.  Just to give you an idea of the impact the Mississippi River carries 60 percent of the nation’s grain, 22 percent of the oil and gas and 20 percent of the coal.  Big deal, right?  As someone who grew up just north of La Crosse, Wisconsin it is hard to believe that the river has dropped low enough to stop barge traffic. 

The real question in eastern Iowa right now is with regard to the condition of the two staple commodity crops: corn and soybeans.  Most people, experts and amateurs alike, have written off a lot of the corn crop because the drought came at a critical time in the growth of a corn plant.  Furthermore, save for some advances in breeding, corn is a fairly inefficient plant in terms of moisture usage and extraction.  If you look at the price of corn you can see what the markets think about the harvest.  On August 16th, a bushel of corn was trading north of $8 for the first time that I can remember.  This is not quite the 52-week high, but it is up quite a bit from the 52-week low of just under $5.

At these prices the ethanol industry just has to be getting hammered.  I have not seen reports of ethanol plants being shuttered, but I cannot imagine that it is very profitable to keep these facilities in operation.

Apparently, the ditch weed in Iowa is doing okay.