Mar 172015
 
Lettuce and drip irrigation

by Avis Licht

row cover and drip irrigation

In warm weather you can cover your beds with row covers, and irrigate with drip irrigation

California is in its fourth year of devastating drought. All of us need to pay attention to our water use. But this does not mean that we have to give up growing some of our own food. Quite to the contrary, we can grow fruit and vegetables with much less water at home than large scale agriculture.

I have just come back from a road trip that took me to the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains and then south to the Kern River and across the San Joaquin Valley, the agricultural center of California. It was an eye opener for many reasons.  Owens Lake held significant water until 1924, when much of the Owens River was diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct, causing Owens Lake to dry up.[2] Today, some of the flow of the river has been restored, and the lake now contains a little bit of water. Nevertheless, as of 2013, it is the largest single source of dust pollution in the United States.[3] 

To learn more about this read Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner. Each action we take to conserve water, DOES make a difference.

We saw large reservoirs that were at 5 percent of capacity. Nearly empty. We saw farmers using huge machinery to take out fully grown orange trees and throw them on the ground to die because they don’t have enough water for irrigation. It was unbelievably sad to see.

But there are ways for you to grow food, that are water conserving and healthy for the environment and for you.

Here are 5 easy ways to conserve water for your garden and grow delicious food. Good for you and good for the earth.

1.Prepare the ground by loosening the soil and adding humus, in the form of compost and/or manure. The quality and health of the soil is vitally import to the health of your plants. Compacted soil will not absorb or retain water very well. This is a very underrated activity for water conservation. Building raised beds with wood or stone and then filling with organic topsoil is one way to do this. Another way is to dig the soil and add humus.

Small vegetable garden

Raised beds make for a healthy soil

2. Create paths and walkways through your garden. DO NOT WALK ON YOUR BEDS! I mean it. The fastest way to ruin your soil is to walk on it and compress it. You remove the air pockets and prevent air and water percolation. Try it. Step on the ground and water it. It will puddle and then most of the water will evaporate. Trust me on this.

3. Mulch, mulch, mulch.  Oh, and did I say mulch? Yes, this makes a huge difference in the evaporation rate of water through the soil surface. There are many kinds of mulch. Read about them here.

4. Plant some of your smaller herbs and veggies in pots and containers. When a pot is close to the house, it is easy to remember to water and you can use the left over water from the sink, or the shower.  I have had great success with herbs, carrots, lettuce, and peppers in containers. You can use self watering containers that let you go away for weeks at a time without worrying about your plants drying out.

A good harvest in a small place, with very little water.

A good harvest in a small place, with very little water.

5. Drip irrigation is the easiest and uses the least water of any method of irrigation. Done well, it puts the right amount of water directly to the roots of the plants and has the least evaporation rates. Check out the book by Robert Kourik on Drip Irrigation. It’s great. Combine drip with a water controller and weather station and you will be golden for putting the right amount of water on at the right time. Many water districts give rebates on these controllers.

There are other ways to gather, store and conserve water in the garden. These are five easy ways to start. Don’t worry, I’ll talk about more ways to save water in future blogs. Right now, it’s important to get started from the ground up, so to speak.

the water at the top drips down to the plants at the bottom.  Great use of space and water.

The water at the top drips down to the plants at the bottom. Great use of space and water.

Edible landscaping

Enter the Edible Landscape using a PATH.

Feb 032014
 
The Italian Garden

by Avis Licht –

Paths save the soil

Paths create a line of view and protect the soil from compaction.

Here is one ridiculously simple way to save your garden from compaction, drought and confusion.

Create paths exactly where you want people to walk. That’s it. That’s the ridiculously simple and effective way to save water, improve your soil and avoid confusion.

Compaction makes it difficult for water to penetrate, for air to infiltrate and for roots to grow in a healthy manner. Different soil types react differently to being walked on.

Sandy soil has the largest particles among the different soil types. It’s dry and gritty to the touch, and because the particles have huge spaces between them, it can’t hold on to water and does not compact so easily. So you folks near the beach can worry less about this. The rest of you, listen up.

Silty soil has much smaller particles than sandy soil so it’s smooth to the touch. When moistened, it’s soapy slick. When you roll it between your fingers, dirt is left on your skin.

Silty soil can also easily compact. It can become poorly aerated, too.

Clay soil has the smallest particles among the three so it has good water storage qualities. It’s sticky to the touch when wet, but smooth when dry. Due to the tiny size of its particles and its tendency to settle together, little air passes through its spaces. This type of soil is also prone to major compaction.

Just the one action of NOT walking on your soil can help immensely. Reducing compaction allows water to penetrate, saving water; increases root growth, creating conditions for healthier plants, reduces confusion by showing people where to walk.

By building paths, you tell your guests, and yourself exactly where to walk, thereby reducing all confusion. (See first sentence).

Here’s a post I wrote on how to make a simple, safe and sturdy path. The Well Made Path.

Raised beds are a great way to keep your soil from being stepped on continuously.Click here to see a variety of Raised Beds.

Mulch, stones, brick, wood rounds set in a clearly marked path will all work to reduce compacted soils.

This image comes from the University of Kentucky; 

They write: “Compaction results when soil particles are pressed together, reducing pore space and aeration.  The damage to the soil structure reduces the soil’s ability to hold and conduct water, nutrients, and oxygen.  Rate of water infiltration is decreased and more water is lost to runoff.  Other effects of compaction include decreased organic matter, reduced microbial activity, poor drainage, increased erosion, and nutrient leaching.

These undesirable effects on the soil directly affect plant growth.  Roots have increased difficulty when penetrating the soil which often results in reduced root growth and reduced ability to take up water and nutrients.  Compacted soils can slow forage establishment, cause short and stunted plants, decrease drought tolerance, and reduce overall yields.  Severely compacted areas often have sparse growth or are bare due to these problems.”

Even a simple stone path, planted with ground cover is beautiful and effective. Paths: you don’t want to live without them.

Mar 232012
 
Deer fence with copper art

 

Deer fence with copper art

A beautiful open fence keeps out the deer and lets in the sunlight

by Avis Licht – Designing a front yard can be a little tricky. Designing it so that it is also a productive food garden makes it even more challenging. What makes an edible landscape work, is that not only does one get food from it, but it must also be lovely to look at in all seasons.  Using a few basic  design tenants and some good gardening sense will help you get started.

1. Always note your sun/shadow in all seasons.  This can change drastically between summer and winter. Be sure to place your shade plants in shady spots, and your sun loving plants where they will find the light. In the garden in these photos, the house casts a large shadow – almost completely in winter, but only partially in summer.

Since this was the only open area for my client’s vegetables, we noted the best sun areas during the main growing season between April and October.

Finding the sun/shadow line

Note your sun/shadow in the main growing season. This photo is the new garden. (click to enlarge)

The old garden fence and site.

This is what the front yard looked like before we renewed it. (click to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t forget to look at my book on The Spring Garden Made Easy.

2.If you need a fence, be sure it looks good, lets the light into the garden and keeps the deer and other critters out. Wood fences can look good, but can also create shadows that prevent plants from getting enough light.

A simple post and wire fence that looks good

A good looking wire fence lets the light in and keeps the neighbor’s dogs out.

 

We removed the wood fence from this garden, as it cast a heavy shadow in winter when the sun was low in the sky.  Because this is California, there is a long growing season and we wanted to make good use of the little space available. Many neighbors stop by to admire the beautiful vegetables and flowers in the front yard.  Keeping this garden well tended all year makes it a neighborhood delight.  Everyone wants a fresh pea in spring and tomato in summer.There are plenty of flowers to keep it cheerful.

 

3.Create permanent beds and paths. Permanent beds create pattern and form in a garden even when the beds may be empty. The same is true for paths. They are cleaner, safer and create form in the garden.  Paths also keep people from walking on the beds. Here are a few different solutions.  Stone paths are more expensive, but last longer and are beautiful. Chipped paths look good and are inexpensive.  They also allow the water to seep into the soil for water retention.

raised stone bed

Permanent beds give form and interest even without all the plants. Chipped paths are easy to lay and inexpensive.

Stone paths are safe, beautiful, long lasting and also more expensive.  Choose a material appropriate for you and your budget.

Stone path

A winding path leads you through the garden to the front door.

4. Choose plants the grow well in your climate and in your site.  Choose appropriate sized plants. Meaning, if you have a small front yard, use dwarf or semi dwarf trees, or small shrubs. Fruit trees, blueberries, currants, strawberries mixed with flowering shrubs all make wonderful front yard plants.  They look good in most seasons.  Use perennials in your front yard and keep the annuals to a minimum. When growing vegetables in the front yard, keep them well tended if your yard is open to the neighborhood. It’s all part of being a good neighbor. The more you share the bounty, the  more your neighbors will want to imitate your garden.

Edible front yard

Summer in the edible front yard still looks great. (click to enlarge)

side view of the edible front yard

Herbs, flowers and a simple fence for the edible front yard. (click to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are a few ideas to help you plan your edible front yard. There will be more ideas to come. Sign up for my blog and you won’t miss anything.

Nov 152011
 
Inspiring writing by Wendy Johnson

Wendy Johnson knows her gardening and her spirit

Truthfully, I don’t read very many gardening books. I prefer to putter in the the garden. But every now and then, one comes along that demands my attention. Wendy Johnson’s, Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate: At Work in the Wild and Cultivated World, is one of those books.

She has formidable experience in the garden, having been the head of Zen Center’s garden for many years.  She studied with the great Alan Chadwick and Harry Roberts.

In this book she combines her experience in the garden with her life as a student of Zen Buddhism. Her writing is lyrical, practical and,thank god, humorous.

I know you will learn a lot from Wendy’s experience and enjoy reading about her life at the Dragon’s Gate. It’s a perfect book for a long winter evening.

 

Looking inside the book

Colorful pots and plants that fit the conditions

In a practical vein, I highly recommend this book by Paul Williams called  Container Gardening. It concentrates on ornamental plantings.  He clearly lays out many types of plants and planters for every condition, from full sun to complete shade.

This is my go to book when showing clients what can be done with color and form in a pot near the house.

You’ll be very inspired, I guarantee it.

Paths are an important part of every garden.  Designing and building a path can be tricky, if it is to be both beautiful and durable.  One of the books I’ve found that can help you choose a path that you can build yourself and is appropriate for the site is Garden Paths, by Gordon Hayward. It is well illustrated and full of inspiring ideas.

Any  of these books will make  a wonderful gift for your gardening enthusiast.

 

How to build and design garden paths

A book with simple and beautiful path ideas

Inspiring designs for planting in containers

Best use of color and form in a book on container gardening

Sep 022011
 
Beautiful Paths
Beautiful Paths

Path into the Garden

Walking up the brick path to the front door, you can see a well defined path on the left leading through an open wire fence.  It just makes you want to go there.  This path is made of decomposed granite, also known as DG. It is easy to lay down, and weed resistant.  In this case we added a stabilizer to the granite to make it even more sturdy.

In the picture below you can see how we leveled the area and put a weed barrier down first. We did the same treatment for both DG and Redwood Bark paths.

Construction of a path

Laying weed barrier on path below your final material

The path leading into the garden, is more informal and we used Redwood Bark.  It looks like it belongs in the garden, but still leads you through easily and safely.  The curve of the path adds design interest and takes you up the hill with fewer steps.

The Redwood Bark Path

The informal bark path is still easy to walk on

Paths do much more than take you somewhere.  A path to the front door should also welcome you and be safe and clearly defined.  A front door gets lots of traffic, from toddlers to the elderly, who may be using canes or walkers.

You want the front entrance to be clearly identified, stable, with no tripping spots and well lit.

Welcoming entry

A well laid, flagstone path, sturdy yet still informal

Although this path is flagstone, it used large stones, is laid very flat and is clearly defined.  It makes a very welcoming entrance.

Paths in the garden not only allow you access to the plants to maintain the beds, but prevent compaction and erosion.  Plants need oxygen and water and aerated soil for their roots to grow.  Each time you step on the soil you compact it more.  After even only a few times, you will find that water doesn’t enter easily, the soil becomes hard and plants won’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need.

Here are examples of simple, easy paths to put in your garden.

stepping stones

Stepping stones in the garden prevent compaction

A very easy and simple path

Free chips laid on a path work well too

In the picture above, you can see small stepping stones in the bed on the left.  They are there to walk through the strawberry bed without compacting the soil.

Under the chips in this garden, we laid old sheets and towels to keep the weeds down. I really don’t like using plastic in the garden. Cotton is an organic material that lets water through, keeps the weeds from growing and will eventually break down into soil. Plastic weed barriers just break up into little pieces of plastic that will be there for the next thousand of years.   Think twice before using plastic in the garden.

Another example of a beautiful stone stepping path.  Easy to lay and beautiful to look at.

Slate stone entry and stepping stones to the back yard

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