Search Results : erosion

Nov 082011
 
Low retaining walls can help prevent erosion

Low stone retaining walls keep soil from falling into the driveway

Erosion of  hillsides can range from minor movement that is easy to repair, to major and dangerous situations.

Caveat! Caveat! Caveat!

If you think you have a major problem, please refer to a professional soil engineer or contractor to help you.  In this post, I am only going to address simple  erosion problems.

 

 

 

 

Building low stone retaining walls can be simple and effective for keeping  hillsides from eroding.

These walls were built without mortar in  a method called drystack.  Only soil was used to hold them in place.  Cutting back into the hillside, laying the stone, back filling with soil and then planting keeps the base of the wall stable.

Loose soil will collect in the beds at the bottom of the hill.

Vegetated swale

The swale is covered with a biodegradable erosion blanket and sowed with clover and wildflower seeds

 

When assessing your slope for erosion problems look for these signs:

  • Channels already formed in the hillside from runoff
  • Bare soil that is exposed to  rain or water runoff
  • Downspouts or other water sources

Ways to minimize water damage include:

  • Create swales that are on the contour of your slope
  • Build retaining walls that have drainage in them
  • Sow seed and plant  fast growing shrubs to cover bare soil
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch

 

Wild strawberry and Mahonia with stone wall

At the top of the stone wall you can see the wild strawberry (click to enlarge)

In the photo above I planted a native strawberry that sends out many runners and roots into the hillside.  It will cover the hill very quickly. Other California native plants that provide excellent cover are creeping Ceanothus, trailing Manzanita and  Sonoma Sage and Coastal Sage Brush.

Planting on steep hills

Creeping ceanothus, trailing manzanita and other natives were used on this steep shady slope

Small stone walls

Small walls at the base of trees keep soil and mulch in place

The most important action for you to take in your garden is OBSERVATION.  Go out in the rain and storms and watch how the water flows.  This is the best way to learn about your garden and the only way to really know what is happening.

 

Nov 072011
 

 

Retaining walls

The hill came down, the walls went up

 

Before the rains come crashing down, take a good look around your property.  It’s especially important if you are on a hill or have slopes around you.  When water picks up speed it can really create havoc.  Take a look at this hillside. After a number of rainy days, the whole hillside came down into the driveway.  Fortunately, no person and no cars were there when the soil came down.

In an effort to get more light in the property the owners cut down many trees.  The result, light came down and so did the hillside.  They should have made sure the ground was planted and drainage was put in place.  To do it after the soil erodes is much more expensive. In addition to cutting back the hill and putting in retaining walls, we also put drain pipe behind the walls, at the top of the hill and at the bottom.  Water has to go somewhere!  Take a look.

Erosion control for steep hills may mean building retaining walls

Cement block wall at the bottom and wood retaining walls will hold back this hill

Construction of the retaining wall

Retaining wall in process

There's still too much soil, and erosion can be a problem

Cement block wall is not high enough, and soil needs to be removed

After the walls are built, it is important to plant for soil coverage.  I use seeds for immediate coverage and plants for long term coverage.  At the top of the hill we put in a swale to redirect the water away from the main walls. We covered it with erosion control blankets.  They are both 100% biodegradable, but they are slightly different. One is thicker and made of coconut fiber and the other has straw put between cotton netting. The thick mat is better for stronger erosion control and the straw allows better germination of seeds.

Two types of erosion control blankets - coconut and straw

The blanket on the left has straw and the blanket on the right is coconut fiber.

Swale

A long swale covered with netting and also planted with seed

For quick germination I used rye grass, Dutch white clover, vetch and California wildflower mix, with extra California poppies. We were lucky with early October rains that helped with excellent germination.  If you don’t expect rain, you should water the seeds to take advantage of warmer weather in the early Fall.  Once the winter rains come it gets too cold for most seeds to germinate.

Erosion control seed mix

Rye grass, Dutch white clover, Vetch and Wildflowers

Seeds germinating through straw mulch

Straw mulch holds the soil in place and protects the seed

 

Tomorrow I’ll talk about other simple erosion control  methods.

Curving path on steep hill

Using plants and curving path for hillside erosion control

 

 

 

 

 

Feb 172015
 

by Avis Licht

An organic gardener’s success is based on a few basic necessities. I think the health and quality of one’s soil is right at the top of the list. After that comes sufficient sunlight, appropriate water and healthy plants.  Today I want to talk about some simple ways to fertilize your garden and improve your soil’s growing  capabilities.

Compost and mulch make a beautiful cover for the sil

A beautiful garden grown with compost, manure and mulch

An organic fertilizer refers to a soil amendment derived from natural sources that guarantees the minimum percentages of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash. These include plant and animal by-products, rock powders, seaweed, inoculants, and conditioners.  These minimum amounts can be very small. For example, horse and cow manure  often have less than 1% nitrogen by weight. This is not to say it’s not a good fertilizer, it is. But depending on your plant’s needs, you may need to add other sources of nitrogen.

One word of caution. An organic fertilizer means it comes from natural materials, BUT it doesn’t mean it’s organic.  Cottonseed meal comes from a plant, but cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops.  There will be pesticide residues in cottonseed meal unless it specifically says it comes from organic cotton.  Bloodmeal and bone meal take a great deal of production and energy to produce these fertilizers. Plus you don’t know how the animals were raised. It can seem very complicated to stay fully organic. When possible ask for the source of your fertilizer.

We take a short break from our program to let you know about this important news. The Spring Garden Made Easy, by me, Avis Licht, is now available for all you enthusiastic gardeners that want to get your Spring garden planted with the least possible problems. Yes, now you too, can have the Garden of Eden in your back or front yard. Or maybe a few lettuces and tomatoes. It’s all in this 20 page ebook, with easy to follow suggestions.  Links in the book will lead you to much more detailed information.  Try it, you’ll like it. Only $4.99.

Spring Garden Made Easy

This is the cover to my book.

Spring Garden Table of Contents

 

Different manures have different nutrient values based on the animal, what it ate, how much bedding is in the manure and so on. In another post I’ll talk about the relative merits of different manures. For now, let’s just agree that manure from herbivores that is composted, is a good organic fertilizer. I say herbivores, because we don’t want to use poop from meat eating animals like dogs, cats or humans.  There is risk of parasites or disease organisms that can be transmitted to humans from meat eating animals. For ease of listing, here are Vegetable fertilizers: alfalfa meal, cotton seed meal, green manure, sea weed, wood ash. Animal by-products include: manure, blood meal, bone meal, fish meal, feather meal and bat guano. Mined minerals include: rock phosphate, green sand, gypsum.

compost bin

Compost bin for a family of 4 – 6 people

The easiest fertilizer is compost that you make at home from material in your yard.  But it takes a LOT of material to make a little compost. You’ll probably have to bring in compost or topsoil when you first start your garden. This is not terrible, it just costs money and uses outside resources.  Sometimes we have to do that.

Soil amendments are materials that don’t have a minimum amount of nutrient, like compost.  They can be worked into the soil or laid on top. Amendments are important for the humus they add, the tilth, and aeration of the soil. Without proper soil aconditions, it doesn’t matter how much nutrient you put in.  Roots need air, water and microbial activity, which all comes from adding organic amendments.

Mulch is material laid on the surface and does not add nutrient to the soil until it breaks down over time. Mulch protects the soil from compaction, erosion and keeps the weeds down.  It also conserves water. Even though we don’t call it a fertilizer, it’s a very important part of the garden and soil and plant health.

The Four Major Elements to Fertilize Your Garden:

1. Nitrogen: For Vegetative Growth:  Bloodmeal, Cottonseed Meal, Liquid Fish, Fish Meal, Pelleted Fertilizers, Feather Meal

2. Phosphorus: For Flowering and Fruiting: For fruit, flower, and root development. Use Soft Rock Phosphate. You can also use Bone Meal.

3. Potassium: For Vigor and health. Use Sulfate of Potash or Greensand.

4. Calcium and Trace Minerals: For Health and Resilience: Almost all soils test low in Trace Minerals. Add Compost, Kelp Meal

In previous posts I wrote about legumes, which fix nitrogen and wood ash.  Keep coming back, as I’ll go through the whole list of fertilizers. In the mean time, dig up your beds, or sheet mulch them, and then add compost and/or composted manure.  You’ll be off to a good start.

Feb 262014
 
Rough compost is used for large areas
  • by Avis Licht –  Mulch is great for the garden, but it’s important to use the right mulch in the right place.  Here are some tips on how to pick the best mulch for your garden.
Mulch is great for the garden

. For vegetables I use organic compost.  It is pretty in the beds and useful for the plants.

MULCH IS GOOD FOR THE GARDEN

There are many kinds of mulch and each has its particular benefits and disadvantages. Sometimes it’s better not to use any mulch.  It can be from natural materials like bark and compost or man made from plastic and rubber.

Rough compost is used for large areas

We take our lessons on mulching from mother nature.  Falling leaves, twigs, needles, flowers and fruit fall to the ground, covering the soil.  They decompose, adding nutrient back into the earth. They also protect the soil from sun, wind and hard rains to keep the soil from eroding, blowing away and becoming compacted. In our desire to be “neat” we often rake up leaves and put them in the garbage in a misguided effort to keep the garden looking tidy. If you want to enjoy a very funny story on lawns and raking leaves, check this out: A Story About Lawns and God.

Here’s how to keep the garden looking good and stay healthy at the same time.

ADVANTAGES OF MULCHING

  1. Conserves water by preventing evaporation
  2. Reduces weed growth
  3. Keeps soil cooler in summer and warmer in winter
  4. Organic materials improve soil structure as they breakdown
  5. Reduces splash onto leaves and buildings
  6. Reduces erosion by slowing down water runoff and allowing water to penetrate the soil, reduces wind erosion
  7. Reduces soil compaction, which in turn allows water and air to penetrate into the soil
  8. Encourages worms.(Yes!)
  9. Looks good (Also Yes!)
Organic compost around herbs

Compost around herbs looks good and adds to the health of the soil and plants

DISADVANTAGES OF MULCHING

  1. Mulched beds are slower to warm up in spring – especially a concern for vegetable gardens
  2. Can import weed seed – especially in compost and manure that has not been sufficiently heated
  3. Can prevent native bees from creating homes in the ground. (Warning, this link doesn’t encourage mulching, but has some good points)
  4. Large and small bark mulches can take nutrient out of the soil as they break down. (This link has more information on problems with mulch)
  5.  Inorganic mulches like plastic and shredded rubber do not decompose, they just break up into  smaller pieces that are garbage.
  6. Mulches that are too thick can prevent water and air from entering the soil.
  7. Mulches too close to the trunk or crown of a plant can cause it to rot.

TYPES OF MULCH

  1. Bark, either shredded or sized (1/4″, 1/2″ or larger) can be very ornamental and tidy.  They do not add nutrient value to the soil.  It is also hard to clean up falling leaves from areas mulched with bark. Bark can be expensive.
  2. Compost is excellent for most plants.  It can be bought or you can use your own.  I found it difficult to make enough of my own compost to cover all my garden.  So I used it on the most important plants – my vegetables and strawberries. Be aware that compost can have weed seed. There are many sources for good looking, safe compost. (Contact your local soil and amendment supply store.)
  3. Manure that is well composted is an excellent mulch in most parts of the garden.  Horse stables have different methods of composting their piles.  Test it in one area of your garden to make sure you don’t import unwanted weeds.
  4. Straw and hay. Hay has seeds and you don’t want to use it.  Straw on the other hand, is basically weed free.  It isn’t particularly pretty, so use it in the vegetable garden.  It can create habitat for slugs and worms if kept  moist.  So have an eye out for that.
  5. Leaf mold is from leaves that have decomposed. I rake up all my oak leaves and put them in a big pile over the winter.  In spring I move aside the top leaves and underneath is a beautiful  amount of composted leaves, known as leaf mold. Don’t worry it’s not moldy! I put this on my fruit, raspberries, strawberries and currants.  You can also use it in your perennial garden. Don’t use leaves from Eucalyptus, Walnut, Bay or diseased trees. Their leaves have allelopathic elements that inhibit the growth of plants.
  6. Living mulch is a low growing ground cover.  It protects the soil by covering it, and also increases soil health by growing roots, which creates humus, aeration and water penetration. Live plants also create a healthy atmosphere of transpiration, moisture and habitat for birds and insects.
  7. Rocks, stones and pebbles can also be used as mulch. They can be very ornamental, while still preserving moisture, protecting the soil and reducing weeds.  Stone will absorb heat and release it into the ground.  This kind of mulch is excellent for desert plants, succulents and alpine plants.

WHERE TO MULCH

  1. New plantings – Cover areas that are exposed until the plants fill in
  2. Vegetable garden – Use compost to mulch around your young plants. This will keep the soil surface from compacting and will add nutrients and worms.
  3. Put around trees
  4. All shrubs, flowers and perennials
  5. Basically everywhere, except those special parts of the wild garden where you want to leave soil for your native bees to take up residency.
  6. Replace mulches as they decompose, faster for composted areas, longer for bark.
Young plants benefit from compost

Mulching keeps the yard looking good and provides a healthy environment

Feb 032014
 

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.

Nov 122013
 

by Avis Licht

Spring Garden Made Easy

A cover crop is an area of planting that is sown for the purpose of improving the soil and keeping the ground “covered” to prevent erosion.

The right plant can:

  • Increase the  organic matter content of the soil
  • Increase the availability of nutrients
  • Improve the soil’s tilth, which is the texture of the soil
  • Reduce weeds by choking out undesirable plants
  • Reduce soil pests
  • Enhance the soil’s biological activity.

Fava beans are one of my favorite cover crops. You can sow them late in the Fall even in cold weather.

Fava beans germinate quickly and grow even faster.  You can use the tops for compost, eat the beans, and when you’re done with the plants you can leave the roots in the ground.  Fava beans  will have put more nitrogen into the soil than it takes out.  I mean, this is a plant that keeps on giving.

It’s not a good idea to  leave any areas of your garden bare in the winter. Rain will compact the soil. The ground is subject to erosion and leaching of nutrients when nothing is growing. I sowed my Fava Beans in November and 3 weeks later they were over 8 inches tall. The moral here is better late than never.

In the Spring, when you’re ready to plant your veggies, you can cut down the fava beans even if you don’t harvest the bean for eating.  It will make an excellent addition to your compost pile and leave the soil in better condition.

Once we’ve got our garden planted, we can sit back and welcome winter back again.

And while you’re relaxing around the fire, it’s time to start perusing those beautiful seed and plant catalogs for Spring and even get a leg up on your spring garden with my ebook, The Spring Garden Made Easy.

Spring Garden Made Easy

 

 

To help you get started on your Spring Garden, there’s plenty of good advice in my ebook: The Spring Garden Made Easy. It’s only $4.99. If you’ve gotten useful information from my blog,here’s a way to keep me going. Thanks for reading. Be sure to leave a comment and let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. I love to hear from you

Bell beans grow all winter long

Bell beans grow all winter long

The summer vegetables are gone and it's ready for fava beans as a cover crop

The summer vegetables are gone and it’s ready for fava beans as a cover crop

Jan 082013
 

by Avis Licht

Every little hair has frost on it.

Strawberries with frost

In the middle of a cold and wet winter day it’s hard to think about what needs doing in the garden. But there are a few items on the to do list that will give your garden a jump on  the spring rush.

Be sure to take a walk around the garden and check for erosion from rainy day run off. We’ve had some amazingly strong downpours this year that caused some unwanted waterfalls.  Read these posts to correct drainage problems. Sometimes there’s just too much water at once and you have to clean up after the fact. Take a look at my veggie garden: (click to enlarge)

Protect tender garden plants by covering them on frosty nights. You can use row covers, sheets, blankets or plastic.Succulents, citrus, bougainvillea and fuchsias are among the frost-sensitive plants. Use stakes to keep material from touching foliage and remove the coverings when temperatures rise the next day.

Many deciduous trees, shrubs and vines can be pruned now. Do not prune spring-blooming plants until after they bloom. Consult a pruning guide that lists optimum pruning times for different species.


 

 

 

Order seeds for your spring and summer garden. Read these posts I wrote on catalog offerings and seeds choices. Be sure to order my e book : The Spring Garden Made Easy. It will help you get your garden going in Spring.  It’s only $4.99 and you can download it right now!

It’s perfect timing to plant those hardy perennials during this season of rain and plant dormancy. It’s important to get down to your local nurseries to check out their stock of bare root fruit trees, soft fruit, and more. Think asparagus, artichoke, rhubarb, blueberries, raspberries, pomegranate and all those great fruit trees. Just don’t work the soil when it is too wet.

It won't be long before the spring garden starts to grow.

It won’t be long before the spring garden starts to grow.

 

 

Dec 032012
 

by Avis Licht  

Erosion caused by overgrazing of cattle 

I’m sitting in my office, looking out the window at the pouring rain.  A huge winter storm has descended on us.  For the water we are grateful. We just need to make sure that it  doesn’t all run off  and erode our precious soil. Erosion of topsoil is one of those strangely ignored problems that can create huge problems, but can be addressed with straightforward solutions.

In their book, Topsoil and Civilization, Vernon Carter and Tom Dale, make the convincing case that our misuse of topsoil is directly related to the downfall of civilizations. It takes 500 years to form 1 inch of topsoil and with unsafe soil practices this important layer can be washed away in minutes. They write, “Civilized man was nearly always able to become master of his environment temporarily.  His chief troubles came from delusions that his temporary mastership was permanent.  He thought of himself as “master of the world” while failing to understand fully the laws of nature.”

Topsoil supports life.  Through thousands of years topsoil was formed as organic matter decayed and was deposited in layers.  For 350 million years the quality and quantity of soil and life increased. With the advent of civilized man, soil building processes was reversed in most places.

A tiny fragment of the land area on the earth represents the soil that we depend on for the world’s food supply.  This small fragment competes with all the other needs – housing, cities, schools, land fills, etc. It is up to each one of  us to take care of, protect and enhance our own topsoil.

THINGS YOU CAN DO TO PROTECT YOUR SOIL:

1. Plant to cover your soil. In vegetable gardens use cover crops in the winter where you don’t have vegetables growing.

Plants cover concrete wall

Once the plants are in you can barely see the retaining wall

2. Judicious use of wood and stone to form retaining walls can make a big difference in stopping erosion.

Stone for raised beds

Raised beds using stone for both low and tall walls

3. Create ditches and/or swales to slow and redirect water runoff.

Swale, at the top of the hill, redirects runoff, and is also covered with biodegradable fabric that has seed sown in it.

Check out these photographs of  waterfalls in my own garden after 10 inches of rain!

[portfolio_slideshow include=”2104,2109,2110″]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oct 302012
 

by Avis Licht

Whether you plant edible crops for the winter or not, there are a few things you can do to keep your garden healthy and protected for the winter.

Clean up under your fruit trees and mulch with compost

 

 

1. Clean out the old beds and if you have room, be sure to compost your old foliage.  There are a lot of nutrients in those plants that  came out of your ground and you can put those nutrients back into the soil. Composting is an important part of garden health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fava beans make a wonderful winter cover crop

 

 

2. Plant cover crops to protect the soil from erosion and add nutrients as well as humus to the soil.  Fava beans and bell beans can be sown even in cold, wet weather.

 

 

 

3. Sheet mulch to cover large areas to improve the soil, get rid of weeds and prepare for future planting without having to dig the soil.  Sound too good to be true? Well it really works. Here’s an article about sheet mulching in my own back yard.

 

 

 

Mulching around plants

 

4. Mulch the soil around plants. This is one of the most important things you can do in the winter to protect the soil from erosion, hold moisture, protect roots from extreme weather and add nutrient. There are many types of mulch. Leaves, straw, wood chips, compost, and manure are some of the most common and easiest to use. As with everything else in the garden, there’s always lots to learn.  Different mulches  work better in different conditions. Check out my article on best mulching practices.

 

Frost on fallen leaves

Mar 132012
 
Compost and mulch make a beautiful cover for the sil

by Avis Licht

Compost and mulch make a beautiful cover for the sil

A beautiful garden grown with compost, manure and mulch

An organic fertilizer refers to a soil amendment derived from natural sources that guarantees, at least, the minimum percentages of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash. These include plant and animal by-products, rock powders, seaweed, inoculants, and conditioners.  These minimum amounts can be very small. For example, horse and cow manure  often have less than 1% nitrogen by weight. This is not to say it’s not a good fertilizer, it is. But depending on your plant’s needs, you may need to add other sources of nitrogen.

One word of caution. An organic fertilizer means it comes from natural materials, BUT it doesn’t mean it’s organic.  Cottonseed meal comes from a plant, but cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops.  There will be pesticide residues in cottonseed meal unless it specifically says it comes from organic cotton.  Bloodmeal and bone meal take a great deal of production and energy to produce these fertilizers. Plus you don’t know how the animals were raised. It can seem very complicated to stay fully organic. When possible ask for the source of your fertilizer.

We take a short break from our program to let you know about this important news. The Spring Garden Made Easy, by me, Avis Licht, is now available for all you enthusiastic gardeners that want to get your Spring garden planted with the least possible problems. Yes, now you too, can have the Garden of Eden in your back or front yard. Or maybe a few lettuces and tomatoes. It’s all in this 20 page ebook, with easy to follow suggestions.  Links in the book will lead you to much more detailed information.  Try it, you’ll like it. Only $4.99.

Spring Garden Made Easy

This is the cover to my book. 

Spring Garden Table of Contents

 

Different manures have different nutrient values based on the animal, what it ate, how much bedding is in the manure and so on. In another post I’ll talk about the relative merits of different manures. For now, let’s just agree that manure from herbivores that is composted, is a good organic fertilizer. I say herbivores, because we don’t want to use poop from meat eating animals like dogs, cats or humans.  There is risk of parasites or disease organisms that can be transmitted to humans from meat eating animals. For ease of listing, here are Vegetable fertilizers: alfalfa meal, cotton seed meal, green manure, sea weed, wood ash. Animal by-products include: manure, blood meal, bone meal, fish meal, feather meal and bat guano. Mined minerals include: rock phosphate, green sand, gypsum.

compost bin

Compost bin for a family of 4 – 6 people

The easiest fertilizer is compost that you make at home from material in your yard.  But it takes a LOT of material to make a little compost. You’ll probably have to bring in compost or topsoil when you first start your garden. This is not terrible, it just costs money and uses outside resources.  Sometimes we have to do that.

Soil amendments are materials that don’t have a minimum amount of nutrient, like compost.  They can be worked into the soil or laid on top. Amendments are important for the humus they add, the tilth, and aeration of the soil. Without proper soil aconditions, it doesn’t matter how much nutrient you put in.  Roots need air, water and microbial activity, which all comes from adding organic amendments.

Mulch is material laid on the surface and does not add nutrient to the soil until it breaks down over time. Mulch protects the soil from compaction, erosion and keeps the weeds down.  It also conserves water. Even though we don’t call it a fertilizer, it’s a very important part of the garden and soil and plant health.

In previous posts I wrote about legumes, which fix nitrogen and wood ash.  Keep coming back, as I’ll go through the whole list of fertilizers. In the mean time, dig up your beds, or sheet mulch them, and then add compost and/or composted manure.  You’ll be off to a good start.

Jan 022012
 
After sheet mulching - beauty and bounty

by Avis Licht

After sheet mulching - beauty and bounty

It’s possible to have a backyard that is both productive and good looking

Winter is a good time to think about designing, changing or tweaking your garden.

Instead of being knee deep in garden projects, you can sit back and take the time to consider changes to your garden. Your changes can be big or small, but make sure they fit into the grand scheme.

Curving path on steep hill

Using plants and curving path for hillside erosion control

Your parameters will be:

1. Your site: Whatever you do has to work within the givens of your site. These include your climate, soil, sun/shade, slope, existing plantings that you won’t change, buildings and hardscape: paths, stairs, retaining walls, driveways and fences.

Welcoming entry

A well laid, flagstone path, sturdy yet still informal

2. Your finances: New landscaping can be exceedingly  expensive or fantastically frugal – it depends on how much of the work you do yourself, and whether you use new, used or recycled materials.

Redwood Picket Gate

Gate and Arbor from recycled materials

3. Your desires: What you need and what you want may not always coincide, but at least you can consider them and prioritize them. Not everything needs to be done at once.  Have a plan, then build it over time as you can afford it.

4. The sustainability factor: So hold on here, I have a couple of different definitions of sustainable. Hear me out. On a personal level, your garden is only as sustainable as you can take care of it.  If it takes more work than you can keep up with, then it is NOT sustainable on a personal level.  If it takes more money than you can afford, that too is not sustainable. If you put in plants that require more water than you have available both from nature or from finances, that won’t work either. Your personal input has to coincide with what you can afford on an ongoing basis.

On a more global level, sustainability is about the energy and materials you use to build, maintain and grow your garden. Whether it means reusing the wood from your old fence to build a new one, or using permeable pavers instead of concrete for patios and paths, every time you make a decision on what you will use in your yard, be sure to consider the larger impacts.

Brick step with Wood Edge

Using recycled materials we built a brick step

These bricks were taken from an old job and used by me at my own home.  You don’t have to give up on beauty when you reuse or recycle materials.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about specific designs for edible landscapes for small yards.

 

Nov 142011
 
Vicia Faba also known as Fava Bean

Fava beans make a great winter cover crop

A cover crop is an area of planting that is sown for the purpose of improving the soil and keeping the ground “covered” to prevent erosion.

The right plant can:

  • Increase the  organic matter content of the soil
  • Increase the availability of nutrients
  • Improve the soil’s tilth, which is the texture of the soil
  • Reduce weeds by choking out undesirable plants
  • Reduce soil pests
  • Enhance the soil’s biological activity.

Fava Beans are one of my favorite cover crops. You can sow them late in the Fall even in cold weather.

Fava beans germinate quickly and grow even faster.  You can use the tops for compost, eat the beans, and when you’re done with the plants you can leave the roots in the ground.  Fava beans  will have put more nitrogen into the soil than it takes out.  I mean, this is a plant that keeps on giving.

It’s not a good idea to  leave any areas of your garden bare in the winter. Rain will compact the soil. The ground is subject to erosion and leaching of nutrients when nothing is growing. I sowed my Fava Beans in November and 3 weeks later they were over 8 inches tall. The moral here is better late than never.

In the Spring, when you’re ready to plant your veggies, you can cut down the fava beans even if you don’t harvest the bean for eating.  It will make an excellent addition to your compost pile and leave the soil in better condition.

Once we’ve got our garden planted, we can sit back and welcome winter back again.

Preparing the soil for cover crops

Fava beans will go into the prepared soil

Fast growing fava beans cover quickly
Even in the cold and the shade fava beans grow quickly
Oct 042011
 
Tubers of bearded iris can be planted in Fall or Spring

Bearded Iris are hardy, drought tolerant and beautiful

When planning your edible landscape design, you need to consider that every plant has its Right Place, both aesthetically and for its growing needs and its Right Time for planting. Before planting be sure to find out what are the best conditions for your plant and when is the best time to plant.

Just as you shouldn’t put plants that are shade loving into the sunny side of life, you can assure yourself of healthier plants when you put them into the ground at the right time.

Foxglove, and Ferns in the shade, right plant, right place

Foxglove and Ferns in the shade

With Winter right around the corner it’s time to think about planting deciduous trees and shrubs and bulbs. Fruit trees are best planted in the winter when they have lost all their leaves and are in their dormant growing mode.  Although they won’t look like they’re doing anything at the top, underground they are establishing healthy roots to support the tree when it starts to sprout leaves.

Order and plant your Spring bulbs now.

In the West, it’s time to plant and sow our natives that will grow with the winter rains through the mild weather. Because California has summer drought, the plants here have adapted to winter rains. Consider sowing wild flowers to cover hillsides for beauty and to prevent erosion.

Consider planting Ceanothus, Manzanita, Wild Gooseberries, and California Wax Myrtle, for beauty, ease of maintenance, low water needs and bird habitat. You’re really getting a lot bang for your buck with these plants.

Ground cover Ceanothus

A strong, beautiful California Native plant, Ceanothus griseus

Oct 032011
 
Winter crops, edible landscaping, lettuce

Lettuce planted for winter harvest (click to enlarge)

Whether you live on the East Coast , the West Coast or in between it’s time to prepare for the winter.  As the days get shorter and the nights longer, everyone needs to put their gardens to sleep.  This means different things in different parts of the country.

In the West Coast,  Southwest and South where the frosts come later (or never) you can put in vegetables now for the winter.  This week I planted lettuce, broccoli, kale, chard, carrots, beets, peas and fava beans. We get below freezing weather in the winter, but if the plants are well established by November, they can thrive just fine over the winter.

Now is the time to clean up fallen fruit, old leaves, clear out the dead plants in the vegetable garden and put everything on the compost.

compost, weeds, winter preparation, edible landscape

These weeds are headed for the compost pile.

Mulch your garden. You will protect the soil from compaction and erosion due to heavy rains,  it will keep roots of perennials from freezing and create humus as it breaks down.

In areas that you can’t grow winter vegetables, you can still  put in cover crops. Planting cover crops in the fall to cover garden beds over the winter is excellent practice—beds under a cover are protected from erosive effects of winter weather. In addition, even if we do not see any obvious growth during the dormant period, root growth continues except when the ground is frozen.

Dried flowers. winter garden, edible landscaping

Drying Zinnia flowers for wreaths

In cold climates you can plant oat, vetch, peas, rye and barley.  If they are frost killed, they still will be useful as mulch to cover the ground.

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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