Friday, March 16, 2012

Smothering. Or not.

Thursday morning I was out watering my garden - just about everything has sprouted - so fun! - and was looking rather forlornly at the huge patch of small weeds... wondering what to do about those...

I decided to give tarping them a try -- if it didn't work I wouldn't be out anything but the 10 minutes it took to put them down:

The dog was unsure about the whole set up at first -- sniffing around the edges -- but then!  Oh it's great fun to prance around on the tarps!  I think she was sure it would get her in trouble i.e. get her some attention but heck, I don't care... run your 70 pound self all over those weeds!  Accordingly, they quickly lost their allure.

Then I came to work, and Googled, "smother weeds with tarps" and everything I read said it won't work for a variety of reasons -- not totally dark under the tarps, or I should have tarped them much earlier in the season, and even then it would take 6-8 weeks (weeks!) -- the list went on.  So... there they are.  Apparently doing no good whatsoever.  I guess I'll pull them up this weekend.  At least the weeds "shouldn't" be thriving under there, right, the way they would be in the sunshine?  I've gotta go with that.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What I've Been Reading About...

Last year as you (may) know, I ripped out the turf grass in my backyard. 

It went from looking like this:

To this today, with composite granite:

(Wow!  It's been a long time since I did a side-by-side photo comparison!  I love it!)  I've got platforms to do yoga outside.  I have a vegetable garden.  I have several fresh herbs for cooking.  I have a couple of different butterfly gardens.  And I have no mowing schedule.  (Except for Greta's little patch of lawn!)  My backyard makes me so happy!  It literally is My Happy Place.

Now I am thinking about my tiny front yard.  Here's the most recent photo of it that I could find in my files - blurry because it's snowing!

I haven't done a ton of stuff to the front yard since moving in -- I had over 20 shrubs removed from the flower beds -- it was simply overplanted - and I put in a butterfly garden to the left of the long sidewalk.  I have some vague ideas to expand the flower bed on the right side (as seen in this photo) but I haven't executed yet.  I hope that this is the year.

But the lawn.  Ohh the lawn.  I don't really mind mowing it, I guess.  It's small.  It's square.  It's really boring.  But really, it serves no purpose other than providing a visual apron to my house - which, okay, I won't say it isn't eye-pleasing. But as Americans we expend so much time, energy and money on turfs that aren't native to our agricultural zones.  And so we fertilize.  And the fertilizers run off into our storm drains, which drain to our natural water sources... where things live.  Things that don't exactly thrive on lawn fertilizers.  And the things that do live in our lawns?  We hit them with pesticides!  (I won't trot out any numbers here on the amount of resources used on lawns in a time when water resources are being challenged -- they are out there, and they are easy to find.) 

I'm not going to argue that all lawns everywhere should be banished; I don't believe that is true.  Some people do use their lawns - and that's awesome!  But for the mass expanses of lush lawns that I see while driving around town every day, I don't see very many people out there barefoot, lounging, playing croquet... Instead I see flatbed trailers of lawn crews swooping in with noisy and polluting equipment... I think that it is often the case that the lawn crew are the only people actually walking on those lawns.  I know -- I can argue both sides too.  But I have a stronger argument against lawns than I do for them.  (But seriously - why do we have lawns?  Because our neighbors have them?  Are we just keeping up?  They could be growing vegetables!)

And now - climbing down off of my very small soapbox...

What to do?  Personally, I'd love to just landscape it away.  I've been reading about turf alternatives.  I've been reading about edible landscaping.  I've been reading about water conservation, and landscaping that will benefit insects, and birds and bees (who are struggling to survive).  Interwoven through all of those ideas are the ideas of "natural," "organic," and "beneficial plants," "native plants," and "chemical free."  I believe there is a better way. 

I have a book on edible landscaping, Gaia's Garden, Second Edition: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway. (Find it on Amazon.)

I also recently purchased Beautiful, No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives by Evelyn J. Hadden. (Also available on Amazon.  I had my local Barnes & Noble order a copy...)

Soon I'll be lounging on my porch with books, a notepad, and a beverage... brainstorming and dreaming about what transformation is coming to my front lawn.

Here are some sites/blog posts with informative and thought provoking reading:  (This is a blog.  The initial entry happens to be a book review, and then the posts below it deal with lawns...)

I hope you'll join me in thinking outside the lawn -- what do you think about it all?

Much better

I've been lamenting about the weeds in my backyard that have been reaching astronomic proportions.  I got the main walkway area and under the dining table cleared a few weeks ago before a party, and I've pulled a handful or two around the side gate, but in reality?  Out of control.  Add to that the 2-3 days of rain, and then some 80 degree days, and.... Something epic needed to happen.

Yesterday I got out there about 3:30 in the afternoon, and I didn't go inside until after 7 p.m.  Even my dog gave up on me at dinner time and went and stood at the back door, staring inside at her empty food bowl.

Here's the first wheelbarrow full after I filled one lawn bag.  I'm normally opposed to bagging things - I prefer to either redistribute to the alley or add to my compost.   But this volume (trust me, you'll see) is far too great for my compost tumblers, and I fear that if my compost doesn't get hot enough to kill the seeds, I'll just scatter weed seeds later, when I use my compost.  So, bagging is going to have to happen...

I found these little guys, popping up from last year's butterfly garden -- and I really want to encourage their growth and blooming -- the monarch butterfly and hummingbird migrations are happening so early this year!  All I have blooming so far is one large borage plant...

They are a lot happier now, weed free and mulched...

Then there was this massive pull -- you can't tell from the photo, but this pile is 3 feet across and 2 feet high!

From which my lavender was liberated:

Happy lavender... some smaller weeds still remaining...

And two more piles - these I probably could literally bale...

This heap of weeds revealed two butterfly nectar plants that are straggly and pale from fighting the weeds for sun - poor little things!  I feel badly... But now!  Fresh mulch and sunshine are theirs!

I rescued my Natchez Mock Orange, and the American Beauty Berry, just beginning to sprout:

With another huge pile of weeds slipping out of the photo...

More nectar plants - volunteers from last year's other butterfly garden...

All in all -- about 5 wheelbarrow loads of weeds.  FIVE.  That's just insane.  If anyone had told me that I would have made it all the way around the yard, pulling weeds, even I would have bet against myself.  I knew yesterday after previous days' rain would be the easiest time to pull them out roots and all, but I didn't count on it going so fast, or it being quite so... addictive.  Once I got going, I just couldn't quite stop -- there was always just one more area to tackle, one more corner to turn...

So today - feeling very accomplished!  And yes, a little sore. 

I have this weedy area remaining:

They are very low weeds, and just too many to pull manually.  I did one vinegar treatment on them a few weeks ago, with very little reward.  I may tarp it and smother them... or I might till the area up and rake the weeds out... but then what?  I'm thinking I might buy a huge quantity of mixed butterfly garden seeds and toss them out - and have a meadow area.  I thought about planting a cover crop like Hairy Vetch or Clover as I have before, but ... I'm not sure I want to go that route again.  Yes, it prevents erosion and weeds, but it really doesn't serve much of a purpose.  The clover would make bees happy, but so would other things, that the butterflies and hummingbirds would also enjoy.  And let's not forget -- doggy is allergic to things that sting -- awesome, right?

Ultimately what will happen to this large area is a layer of sand, and another layer of composite granite.  But I don't see that happening immediately -- having the materials delivered, taking days off work, organizing some day labor... just not in the current cards.  Do you have suggestions?  I'd love to hear them.

Here's the yard overview this morning.  It looks and feels sooo much better!  (Despite needing to bag all the piles around the yard...) And however strange it is, I really did enjoy those hours of labor!

In my raised beds I have the first sprouts up -- marigolds, radish and kale.  And I'm getting asparagus sprouts which I am mostly dutifully cutting back to encourage more growth in the new bed.

Oh, Happy Spring!