And I Didn’t Even Lose the Frog!

King of the pond

This past weekend, I wound up cleaning the pond. This is definitely one of those “do not try this at home” kind of things, even in the relatively mild temperatures (mild being a relative term literally–it was 85 degrees, but I know many of you would be overjoyed with that!) we were having.

But of course, there is no reasoning with the Spoiler when he gets something–or someone–in his mind. He found someone to help me and despite the fact that I said that it was not a good idea to do this–for the health of the pond and the fish–until cooler weather set in–he said that someone was coming to help me on Sunday so I had better be ready. Before you ask if he is any of the particular ethnicities that tend to be ridiculously stubborn, the answer is, we don’t know. He’s adopted.

So, I worked all day Sunday to “be ready” (which meant) lowering the water level, scraping the pond sides, and trying to catch those pesky fish. You can see 3 of them here. What you really see are four. There’s a black one as well. I had the pond drained down to just about mud before I could actually see him well enough to get him out.

What this photo also shows is the icky dried on algae on the sides. It also shows the nicely brown dissolved algae in the water. I am astounded that the fish were able to survive in there. My frog was loving it, however!

Then there was all this mess to clean up. This is actually an earlier photo, before I started dropping the water level. I cut back some of the bearberry (that lovely green creeper on the spillway) and I swept all the pine needles off the spillway. No sense in cleaning the pond just to have the next rain was all that crud right back into it (if there ever is a next rain, that is).

Newly cleaned pond

And of course, as this and the photo at the top shows, it’s now sparkling and pristine. But the water is about 25 degrees cooler than it started because it came straight from the hose and is still chilled. Luckily, because the fish sat out of the pond in the shade for about 8 hours, they had some time to cool down as well so it wasn’t as if I were dumping fish used to 80 degree water back into 55 degree water.

And the frog came back, clean water and all.I guess it forgives me for displacing it.

Next year, perhaps I will managed to avoid surgery so that I can get this done when it should be done–in early to mid June!

A Slightly Different Take on Companion Planting

I read an interesting article in PopSci (the online version of Popular Science) about “pest repelling plants.”

The article had different plants for each region of the country, and while it promised that many of the plants were perennial, I found that those recommended for the “North,” were not. I also found that those recommended for other regions (the Midwest, for example) would work equally well in my garden, and some of those were perennial.

The basic premise of the article was that certain plants attract insects and will therefore keep those insects from other plants. I am not sure that I call that “pest-repelling,” but hey, whatever works.

They did mention marigolds as repelling nematodes and garlic for repelling rodents. I am not sure about the garlic, never having grown it. I do grow the catnip they recommend and while I cannot be sure about the mosquito and fruit fly (?) (do I even care about that outside? And why?), I can tell you that catnip has worked as a wonderful Japanese beetle repellant for me in a bed of roses. In fact, since I have planted catnip, I have no more Japanese beetles in my yard at all. Coincidence or cause and effect–I am not sure but I will take it!

Another of the plants they recommend (for the West) is nasturtiums. They say that they attract beneficial wasps and repel squash borers and whitefly. I suppose that their effects could be entirely different in different parts of the country but for me I have always found that they are aphid magnets. I have never particularly liked this effect, but if you have plants that always have aphids, you could try nasturtiums as a trap crop, I suppose. I like to grow them to eat, and I don’t enjoy eating aphids!

In any event, the article is fascinating and a great example of “working smarter, not harder” in the garden. I am always a fan of that, as I am a fan of gardening without pesticides. Definitely check it out! You might find some ideas that work for you.

The Stress Less Lawn

The less than perfect lawn

We used to call this the “Freedom Lawn”–as in “free” from pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. But these days, that almost sounds like a political statement, so in the interest of maintaining political neutrality, I am renaming it the “stress-less lawn.”

What am I really talking about? A lawn that doesn’t look like a perfectly manicured golf course or estate lawn–because let’s face it, those lawns are ridiculously difficult to maintain. Most of us do not live in climates–or have the soil–to have acres of lush rolling green grass. That sort of monoculture is problematic at best.

Why? Well, first, it is a monoculture, and any sort of monoculture requires that everything look the same. Since soil (and subsoil) varies over your property, it’s difficult to maintain grass well.

Then there are those pesky trees! You know those lovely things that you planted for shade? Well, darn it, now they’re shading out your grass! And their roots are competing with the grass’ roots! The nerve!

And if you have island flower beds, it gets even worse–so you see my point. You really have to struggle to get all that grass to grow under conditions that are not the same, even on your own property.

Or, you could just let whatever grows there, flourish. It will be different in every season. Right now in my yard, I have some lovely white and purple (and a few solid purple) violets.

Violets

Then there are these sweet ferns that come up here and there. They’re not terribly bothered even when their tops get mowed down every couple of weeks. They just come back again. If I need a fern for the garden, I’ll transplant one.

Fern in the lawn

Around the edges–and even in some low spots in the middle–I have some moss. This stays low enough that it never gets mowed down–the mower just goes right over it.

Moss

And while it’s a little early for clover, I have that to look forward to–as well as a sweet, low-growing St. John’s wort that blooms with a pretty yellow flower.

Speaking of yellow flowers, I do have some dandelions, which are very welcome to the bees. I generally do not weed them out until after the first flowering. They are very cheery after a long winter.

And that is how you grow a “stress less” lawn. We don’t irrigate at all and of course, being completely organic, we don’t use any of the “cides:” pest, herb or fung at all, ever. A little hand weeding and some mowing is about the extent of the “hard” work.

Our pollinators are happy–and we have more free time as well!

A Love Letter to First-Time Gardeners

Dear First Time Gardeners,

Lately, I have been reading stories that things might not have worked out quite the way you planned. And I am here to say that that is perfectly okay. Please don’t get discouraged.

Some of my best gardening “accidents” (I call them “Happy Accidents” and will post about them regularly here) are things that I never planned to happen. What am I talking about?

Roses and hydrangeas

This for example: shrubs and roses that I planted together simply because at the time I had no place to put them. They’re not exactly in the right spot–they get a little too much shade for the roses–but the combination of the hydrangeas and the roses blooming together is lovelier than anything I could have dreamed up!

I understand that many of you have not had stunning success with your vegetables this year. It’s okay, that’s almost a cliche by now. Remember, there’s a book called The $64 Tomato about all the effort it takes to grow vegetables!

I am patting myself on the back because I got at least 50 cherry tomatoes–50! That’s a ridiculously high harvest for me. And I literally had to snatch them away from the squirrels and the chipmunks in the drought year. But they weren’t vine-ripened by any means–oh no! I had to bring them in green before anything could even think about wanting them–so if your harvest was spotty due to critters, believe me, I get it!

But do I stop growing? Oh no. I just keep trying to come up with ways to outsmart the critters. And I admire them so much. If I had to survive outside all winter, hunting up my own food–well, suffice it to say, this blog wouldn’t exist.

Back when I first started growing vegetables here, I will never forget the number of folks who told me, “Oh you can’t grow…..” whatever it was. And sometimes they were right. And lots of times they were wrong.

So please, beloved first-time gardeners, every year is different. Don’t give up. Next year will be better–you know so much more now!

So relax during this autumn and winter and make bread or take up knitting or do a jigsaw puzzle or write a book or whatever everyone is doing during this pandemic. And next spring, please do try again! It will be better–I promise!

At First Light

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I love going out with the dog first thing in the morning. Everything is still and quiet, if we’re lucky, we see no one else and no other cars either.

On this particular morning, there had been a light rain the night before and it had caught all the spiders’ webs in the grass. This isn’t something I usually see in my neighbors’ lawns as we walk because most of them use pesticides, as I have remarked before.

Nature is going to do a lot of the work for you if you let it. There’s a nice combination of funnel web weaving and sheet weaving spiders that have made webs here on my lawn, just waiting for whatever might happen by.

When we think of spiders’ webs, we most often think of–and notice–the large orbs that look like the Halloween decorations. But spiders build all sorts of webs.

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This is a sheet web between these two plants. It looks just like a messy bunch of silk, but it’s quite effective at catching–and holding–insects.

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And this is a web built by a grass spider, who is a funnel web weaver. It gets its name from the “funnel” you see at the top of the web. The spider hides at the bottom the funnel and when something gets caught in the web, it comes out and pounces.

Grass spiders in my part of the country can actually get quite large. Of all the spiders in my yard, they–and the orb-weaving cross spiders–are about the largest. By the end of the season, their bodies can be larger than a quarter–or so it seems to slightly arachnophobic me!

So I am actually quite brave taking photos of all these webs. I shudder at the thought that the spiders are anywhere near–although I love that they are the “good guys” in my garden and yard! I do treasure them for that!

A Tale of Two Lawns

Happy National Pollinators Week! This is the week in June, every year, that the Pollinator Partnership uses to focus attention on the plight of declining pollinators and the role pollinators play in our ecosystems.

With so much going on in the country and the world, it’s tempting to ask if this isn’t just a distraction. I assure you that it isn’t. Pollinators play such an important role in our world that without them, humans literally cannot survive. We need to care for them because they cannot afford to be wiped out.

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So with that being said, take a look at the photo of these lawns. It’s pretty clear that there’s a line between them. The one at the bottom–or closest to the eye–or in front of the “thank you first responders” sign–is my lawn.

As you can notice, it’s all full of clover again, thank goodness. Why is this important? Clover is a great resource for bees and butterflies like the sulphur. I regularly see all sorts of bees on the flowers–I need to be careful when walking the dog through there, although I think the bees are so busy gathering nectar that they would most likely just move on. Still, I don’t want to test my theory on her.

The lawn in the upper portion, beyond my garden, belongs to a neighbor who uses Trugreen. Most of my neighbors use some service who treat the lawns chemically. Therefore, it’s possible to walk down the street and see who treats and who doesn’t by the clover. It’s really interesting.

Of course clover isn’t the only “weed” that we have, but surprisingly, many of those other “lawn weeds” are also butterfly nectar sources as well. Violets host frittalary butterflies. Plantains host the buckeye, painted ladies and crescents.

Once you begin to see your lawn weeds as food for pollinators, having a perfect lawn becomes far less important. At least it does for me. And it’s nice to know that I never have to worry about letting the dog walk on it either (except where the bees are nectaring)!

Leave the Leaves–Some Places

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You probably will be seeing scenes like this shortly all over people’s posts. You’ll see a montage of nice colorful scenes here on Wednesday. Autumn is one of the nicest times to live where I live.

And for the most part, I do try to garden sustainably on the land that I have (although I read something the other day that suggested that the way I garden is “ecologically” not sustainably. That’s something for another post–maybe).

What I try to do is to leave most of the leaves where they fall. But of course, there are limits to this.

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This is one afternoon’s worth of maple leaves. They had been cleared the day before. Obviously, they can’t remain on the driveway. Not only do they become a hazard to driving, but at some point, the drift would become so deep we would have to leave our home by the back entrance.

And they can’t remain on the lawn either. They kill the grass. If you get them early enough, you can chop them with a mower and mulch them into the lawn–but when this much is falling every day, that doesn’t work.

They can–and do–remain in my garden beds. Thankfully there are lots of garden beds to absorb them.

The rest are moved to the curb where the town collects them. Only the leaves from the lawn and the driveway get collected. The rest stay on site for us–either mulching the beds in place, or blowing–or being blown–into our woods.

A Tale of Two Lawns

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This is my front lawn right now. You know that we are completely organic and that we don’t irrigate at all–the only water this lawn has gotten all summer it got when it rained–and this is a slope, obviously (this abuts the ski slope driveway that I occasionally reference or photograph).

Obviously because we are organic there have been no pesticides used at all. Occasionally we use a corn meal gluten fertilizer in the spring. I don’t recall if we did this year but we certainly don’t do so yearly.

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Not all parts of the lawn look so fabulous but they’re all equally lush. This section, as you might be able to tell, is right next to the road. It’s got lots of clover for the bees, some plantain, and some creeping Charlie (or Jenny, depending on which common name you prefer).

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Now, not to engage in neighbor shaming but this is just one of several of my neighbor’s lawns that looks like this. What do they all have in common?

First, supplemental irrigation. This lawn gets watered twice a day, whether it needs it or not. Mushrooms are growing here, and I have seen the sprinklers going in the rain.

Next, this lawn gets cut religiously once a week, again whether it needs it or not–although with all that watering, it sure needs cutting a lot more than ours!

Finally pesticides. It seems that I regularly have to avoid the street in front of this house because of some sort of pesticide treatment. I used to think there was a “4-step” lawn care program. In my neighborhood, I think pesticides are applied every 2 weeks–& I am not kidding! And yet–this.

Whenever I lecture and say I am an organic gardener, I will get asked about weeds, to which I shrug and say that many of our so-called lawn weeds are actually nectar sources for bees and butterflies.

Then I am asked about grubs and I am genuinely mystified. It’s not that we don’t have grubs–I will find larva in our gardens when I am planting.

It’s just that we don’t have them in any quantity to do damage. I attribute that to our organic property. Birds come and feast on the grub larva before they can do any damage. They won’t eat from poisoned lawns–would you?

A Good Day’s Work

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Remember this? What I want you to notice are the weeds in the stone patio. And that’s not as bad as they got either.

You might have noticed that you could barely see my Little Joe joe pye weed because of the weeds in last Friday’s post. It’s been pretty bad around here while my arm is healing.

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Thankfully one thing got addressed this past weekend. After a couple hours of weeding, this patio, and a bed along the back of my house, along with the bed that adjoins this patio, are relatively weed free.

The Spoiler was priceless. He asked what I was going to do to get the weeds out. I made a pinching motion with my thumb and index finger. He just shook his head and said “wow. ”

In all honesty, some of the weeds were so robust that they took my whole hand–and on occasion both hands–to get out. Luckily those were easy enough to pull or I think that I might have ripped open my arm!

Now I have to tackle freeing up that poor joe pye weed!

Native versus Nativar

I won’t even wade into the definition of what a native plant is. That alone can be fairly controversial. And people who love native plants have different ideas about them.

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What do I mean? I might say that I am growing native plants and I might be referring to my echinacea. A very strict constructionist would say that coneflowers are not native to Connecticut and therefore I can’t consider them native.

To me, that’s silly–but I do know people who will only plant regionally appropriate native plants. Bless them.

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Other folks might be growing the double form of coneflowers–these photos are of a neighbor’s plants–and still consider them native.

Technically these double forms are considered “nativars.” That’s a cute form of native and cultivar, combined.

But here are things to consider when planting these types of plants.

First, what is your goal? Are you just planting ornamentally? If so, plant what you like and what will be hardy for you.

If you are planting for wildlife, consider how closely the nativar mimics the native plant. In the case of the coneflowers, the “cone” is replaced by petals. So there is no place for insects or butterflies to nectar. That’s not a good “mimic.”

On Friday I will show a different nativar that maintains the attributes of its parent.