The Ubiquitous Mason Jar

lots of duckweed, little bit of water

We went to the river park this week. There are steps down to the Big Thompson river, where you can float or splash, or put in your tubes and drift down the river. We didn’t bring tubes, but ran into friends who shared with Kate.  There are sprayers where the little kids can shriek and splash and get soaked in relative safety, and there is a bridge under which the water slows down a little, spreads out into shallows, where you can look for crawdads. This is where we spent the bulk of our time. The boy discovered that when crawdads are really little, they just tickle when they pinch.

In Gaia’a Garden (I know, terrible title, great book) there is a description of a project where you take water samples from several different places, with plants and muck and life, mix them in a mason jar, put the lid on and then watch. The idea is that you are mixing elements and creating an ecosystem that is not quite pond, not quite river, not quite lake, but a blend of the three.
I told the boy about the mason jar project at bedtime, and he was fired up- he couldn’t think about anything else. Right after breakfast he asked for a jar, and kept asking when we could go. Obviously, I needed coffee first. And there was that pesky dental appointment…

We went out in the afternoon, after a wonderful thunderstorm. There is a wetland by Kate’s school, but no way to get to open water, so we wound up going to the Sculpture park near our house. This park has a chain of wetlands, culverts and open water, so we were able to find swampy still water, fast running aerated water, and duckweed covered water.

This lake is usually deeper than this…

The final piece of the puzzle was mud, from the reservoir. They have been lowering the water level alarmingly, and we had to walk out quite a ways in the mud. It was pretty gross.

The water is clearing, and the mud has settled, and we can see stuff swimming around.  The boy had high hopes for a minnow, but I don’t think we caught one.

Yes, I am aware of what 3 cups of pond water would smell like if it spilled on top of legos. We would probably have to move. But, we are also trying not to spill.


Resilience- you can grow that!

Purple Coneflower and Yarrow, extremely drought tolerant herbs. They’re loving the heat.

It has been hot here. Crazy hot. Typically, in June we get nice moisture, soaking rains, heavy thunderstorms, nice misty days when it’s just cool and gloomy. Not this year. I realize it is hot pretty much everywhere right now.
We went LA on vacation last week, and it was cool and pleasant- too cool for the ocean almost. Then we ended the vacation in Las Vegas, and it was ridiculously hot. You expect that for Las Vegas, but we kept watching the weather for home, here on the front Range of Colorado, and it was ridiculously hot in Colorado, too.
The guy who mows our lawn was checking in on the cat, and a friend popped over to water the container plants and the tomatoes, but otherwise, we didn’t provide for sprinkling. I expected the worst when we got home, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The grass in the front looks awful, of course, but it almost always looks awful. It’s on the list for future projects.

The beds in back, though, look pretty good. They have plenty of mulch, to hold onto what moisture they get. They have plants that are drought tolerant, or native, or both. I designed them that way so they wouldn’t take much water, and would attract bees and birds and butterflies.

The golden currant is dripping with fruit, the lavender is blooming like crazy, the yarrow and coneflower and chamomile are standing tall.  They look better than I do, dripping and drooping, and praying for rain.

Plan for resilience- xeric doesn’t have to mean rocks and cow skulls, it can be dragonflies and birds and fruits and berries. It takes less water and other resources, and it bounces back from hard times. Resilience is a trait we all can use.

This is pretty much the same shot, from the same angle, as I took 3 weeks ago. It’s been watered once with a soaker hose.

Two books that influenced me tremendously are “Herbs in the Garden” by Rob Proctor, and “Gaia’s Garden” by Toby Hemenway.  Both books helped me learn to think beyond “vegetable garden here, lawn everywhere else.”

Diagonal Apple Tree

I’ve written before about my travails with my Golden Delicious apple tree( it’s my favorite-). After 5 years of struggling in my orchard without quite enough water, the poor guy went horizontal last October in an early season snowstorm. I pulled it back as close as I could to vertical, which is about 75 degrees, (I don’t know, I don’t have a protractor!) and tied it to 2 stakes. My most recent worry was a late season snowstorm, when rain turned to snow on April 2. I wasn’t so much worried that the buds would freeze, I was worried that branches would break off, or that it would go horizontal again and just keel over completely.

It didn’t. So, that’s good news, I guess, if not exactly worthy of a whole blog post…My worries were groundless. The blossoms look fine, and it is getting warm enough for pollinators, so we should have some apples- Golden Delicious, my favorite.

I am keeping the stakes in place, the tree is still leaning to the north, and the 2 stakes pull is pretty steadily to the south. I may add another stake to take some of the pressure off. This June, I again plan to put paper bags on the fruit to get organic apples– I’m bringing my good stapler home from work.

Shows how much you know, it’s only mostly dead!

it's alive!

A Northstar sour cherry tree was one of the first things I planted when we moved to this house, 11 years ago. It is what enabled me to call the mini fenced off garden area “the orchard” which I think still makes people wonder about me- um, rampant raspberries, a horizontal apple tree, some wayward herbs and a dead cherry tree? That’s an orchard?
Ha! The cherrry tree isn’t dead, I found out today- it actually has one major branch that is still alive, with buds breaking out and everything. The sprinkler is on it now, and it will get a scoop of compost, and as soon as everything that is going to leaf out does, I will go in with a pruning saw and take out dead wood. The major branch that is still alive will make a new leader, and we’ll see how well it does.

My hope is that the root system is still healthy enough that the one living limb can become the new leader.  I am guessing that lack of moisture is the problem with this tree.   The herbs and strawberries that are the understory of the orchard thrive without supplemental irrigation. What the lemon balm, chives and spring bulbs need, in terms of water, is much less than what the cherry needs. I need to solve that problem this summer. I have been building the soil with mulch and compost, and I’ll continue to do that. This could be a case of the tree solving its own problem- not enough water for a mid sized tree? Okay, kill off some branches, here’s enough water for a tiny tree.

I will ahve to decide, at some point, when to cut my losses, take out the tree and replace it- what do you think? One more year?

get them before they go to seed FAIL! thistle edition.

Doesn't it look pretty, glowing in the late afternoon sun? Yeah. It's a thistle.

I went to a part of the yard that I hadn’t been to check out for  while (no, the yard isn’t that big, but I’ve been busy with school, and taking people to soccer and play practice, and the Girl just started Tae Kwan Do classes, and it was really hot until a few days ago…)

Anyway, the thistles have bloomed. Crud.

Some seed have scattered, some are still attached, so my mode now is to carefully cut off the seed heads and put them in a bag, then put the bag in the trash. My compost doesn’t get hot enough to kill weed seeds, so I avoid putting them in the compost bin.

Philosophically, are my weeds providing me a service? They are holding on to soil, bringing up nutrients from the subsoil, harvesting rainwater, turning atmospheric carbon into fodder for the compost pile?


They do all those things. And more.

But, I don’t want many more of them. Especially the prickly ones. Oh well.

Asparagus Bed- do it right once…

I got 25 asparagus plants in the mail a couple of weeks ago. Actually 50, because I split an order, but 25 were mine. I knew they were coming, but kind of put them out of my mind, because they are a lot of work. Planting asparagus is the kind of thing that if you do it right, you only have to do once… it’s a lot of pressure.

I put in 10 purple asparagus plants about 4 years ago, and did them in a raised bed. My thinking was that all the directions say to dig a trench, then as the plants grow, add soil to them. I thought, why not put them on the ground, then add soil as the plants grow? I had excavated for our flagstone patio, and had a lot of topsoil, so I thought it would work…I thought wrong.

It is dry here in Northern Colorado, and one of the benefits of the trench method is that the plants get more water. Out of the 10 that I planted, only about 3 are still alive, and I have never gotten a meal out of the planting. Last year, I was able to pick about 20 spears, but not on the same day, of course. I just ate them raw out in the garden.

So, this year, I am working harder on it.  Last Spring I put some horse bedding down in an area near the apple tree (I planted some perennials, but they didn’t work out (moment of silence for dead lady’s mantle)) so I had an area about 10 feet across with some pretty decent soil. It was also the area I had hop-scotched my compost bin around, so there would be some pretty nice compost there, too.

My poor little poin-and-shoot camera- it's like, "what did you want me to focus on here? the shovel? the dirt? what am I looking at here?"

 I figured instead of digging a long trench, I would do it in a horseshoe shape, and use the space in the middle as a vegetable bed this summer. This is where my tomatoes and peppers will go, so they can benefit from the water and compost, too.  In Permaculture books, they call this a keyhole bed, because you access it from stepping stones in the center- it minimizes the amount of path you need to get to plants.

The weekend the plants arrived, it had rained lightly, so the soil was actually digable- the end that hadn’t gotten as much horse bedding was clumpy and hard to get through, but the side that had been mulched was like slicing chocolate cake.  Well, maybe not like cake, but it was certainly easier.  We have clay soil, so the more organic matter, the better.  I dug down about the depth of my shovel blade, and put the loose dirt in the center of the horseshoe.

The following day, I placed the plants- about a foot apart in the trench. I then mixed the loose soil with a few bags of coffee grounds I had gotten at Starbucks, and covered up the plants. All of them already have shoots on them, and in the last week, I have scooped more of the soil from the center on top, slowly filling in the trench. God has been helping out with the rain- (Thank you, God) making up for a very dry winter with a nice wet spring. As they grow, I’ll continue to add more soil on top, and compost. I won’t eat any spears from this year, but by next year I should be able to harvest for a week or so, then more and more. I hope not to have to do this job again. Unless we move…