Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Cheap and Lazy No-Tools Needed Raised Beds for Vegetables and Herbs

I do more than just sit around and watch my lawn take care of itself.  I sit around and watch my compost bins take care of themselves.

But, when it is time to break down the bin and actually use the compost, I have to do something to keep the birds from scattering the compost all over the yard.  After much thought and effort, I came up with a design for a border that can keep the compost in place.

No tools required! Well, If you don't have a mallet or hammer, you can pound the stakes in  with a rock, but mallets are easier to use.

Cedar fence boards and stakes = raised bed

Read more!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

SMACKDOWN: Vinegar vs Glyphosate for Weed Killing

Various blends of vinegar, salt and dishwashing liquid being used as an "organic" or "natural" or "no chemicals" weed killer are all over Pinterest and gardening blogs. They claim it's faster, cheaper and better than "Roundup" herbicide.

I have no clue how a blend of a commercially produced acid and a concentrated household detergent could be considered either "natural" or 'chemical-free". But I'm all for cheaper and better, so I tried it. I did a comparison test in early March by spraying two clumps of my worst weed, annual blue grass.

One side is vinegar, sale and dishwashing liquid
the other is Glyphosate.
You guess which is which.
Read more!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Watching Grass Grow: Buffalo Grass After Four Phoenix Summers

I haven't updated about the buffalo grass lawn because there hasn't been much to update.  It grows, it gets watered, it needs very little mowing, and it's reasonably weed free.  It hasn't been fertilized since we planted it.

We even tried to kill it, and failed.  I was out of town all spring and early summer, and I forgot to tell my roommate to set the watering frequency to every 10 days, so it went until late June on a couple of 15-minute waterings and a trace of rain. I didn't take a picture of it before the water was increased, unfortunately.  It greened up a bit, but the blades were short and a distressed-looking grey-green.  It was in survival mode, waiting for the monsoons.

Buffalo Grass: September 5, 2012
This is not meant to be a clipped formal lawn, it's a grassy meadow.

The remedy for the neglect was water - a double watering immediately to soak the ground deeply and sticking to the every 10 day schedule explained in "Calculating Buffalo Grass Watering".  It's using only half as much water as Bermuda grass. There are a couple of scanty spots, but it's recovered well.

Here it is after being resuscitated. The slightly darker patches are the !@#$@$ Bermuda grass that persists despite my efforts to eradicate it.  The buffalo grass seems to be acting as a living mulch for the Bermuda. Neither one can outgrow the other and take over.

It's been mowed twice, most recently in late July. 

Read more!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dandelions and Clover Terrorizing Lawns Nationwide!

Through a chain of gardening blogs, I found Garden Rant's rant about the inability of Scotts Chemicals to comprehend that diversity in lawns is a good thing. To Scotts, the only good clover is dead clover, the only good dandelion is a dead dandelion, and the only good lawn is one that soaks up several hundred dollars of their product every year.

Dandelion For Sale In Seoul, Korea

Does this cute yellow flower look like it should be hunted down and poisoned to make a sterile monoculture that covers half of my property? Let's bring back the lawns of granny's time, when they were a vibrant mix of grasses, clover and a few volunteer wildflowers. Bees loved those lawns, birds loved them, children loved them, and they were easier to take care of.
Dandelion In October, White Mountains, AZ
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Friday, July 2, 2010

Growing Lettuce at 110° F

This is my experimental lettuce patch, in a photo taken early this morning. It was planted about 2 months ago in an old compost heap that was planted with tomatoes last summer.  The location under a mesquite tree was too shady for tomatoes, so I tried lettuce, mizuna and Swiss chard. It's leggy and pale from being in the shade, but if it were in the sun it would be dead.

It's surprisingly not bitter and despite the high temperatures, it hasn't bolted. All I did was add a bit more dirt to the top of the heap, soak the seeds a few hours and plant them. It has a drip line, and is being watered 3 times a day for a few minutes each time.

Lettuce Varieties: Rubin and Tango
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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Watering Buffalo Grass: It's not rocket surgery!

It's tough being on the bleeding edge of lawn management. For example, how long should I run my lawn sprinklers to water my buffalo grass? How often? No one knows yet, but I think I'm on the right track.

Step 1 was to find out how much water my sprinkler system delivers. The "tuna can" method as explained by the University of Arizona's agriculture department measures your lawn sprinkler's output. UC Davis has a downloadable guide for California that explains a similar method.

Step 2 was estimated from bits of information. The original research for UC Verde buffalo grass indicated that it would survive, and maybe even stay green with half the water that Bermuda grass gets. I also know that deep, infrequent watering is better for lawns.

I had the Phoenix lawn watering guide site calculate the run times I would need for Bermuda grass with my sprinkler system. If you are in California, download the UC Davis brochure and use its watering times.

I converted the number of minutes of watering into minutes per month.

Step 3, I divided the monthly watering time in half to estimate what UC Verde buffalo grass would need. During April and May I watered twice a month, delivering half the water each time. 15 days was a bit too long between waterings; the grass was clearly water-stressed before the next watering session. So I've changed to delivering 1/3 of that amount every 10 days to see if a shorter interval will help.

Calculating your own watering times:
It's not rocket surgery!

Figure out how long warm season grasses need to be watered in your area, based on your sprinkler system's water output. Convert the daily or weekly amount into a monthly watering time.

Deliver between 1/2 and 2/3 of that water every month, split into 2 or 3 watering sessions.
Read more!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring

Two of the gaudy xeriscaping plants, my rose bush and the neighbor's cactus. I am tempted to sneak over to his yard and steal a few pads to start my own cactus.

Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris)

Lady Banks Rose (Rosa banksiae)
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Watching Grass Grow: 1 Year Later, It's a Lawn!

Happy birthday to my buffalo grass lawn! It was one year old on Sunday, and a long way from the sea of mud we had last year. This coming year I'll be reporting on the mowing and watering it needs to keep it attractive. it's about 80% greened up, and with the predicted warmer weather this week, it should be completely green by the first of April.

Our goal is not a putting green, our goal is a low-maintenance lawn that uses less water than Bermuda grass. This survived the abnormally hot and dry summer of 2009, and the abnormally soggy winter of 2009/10 with no problems.

I don't know about the Bermuda that I know is surviving in there - the neighboring Bermuda grass lawns went dormant and greened up simultaneously with the Buffalo grass. I'm going to have to control it with low water and neglect and some old-fashioned pulling. Read more!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Green grows my Buffalo ... already!

After a very rainy, almost freeze-free winter, it's warming up. The low temperatures have been mostly in the 50s and the highs in the mid-60s to as high as 78. With that bit of encouragement, the buffalo grass started sending up a few tiny green blades of grass. I responded by cutting them all off.

Mowing the grass short in early spring lets the sun reach the base of the plant where the new growth will come from. It trimmed off most of the dry ends, revealing a blotchy greenish lawn. By the end of March it should be all green.
Read more!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tomatoes In January: Neener, Neener!

Look at the picture, taken January 23, 2010. Those are tomatoes I picked from my garden in the middle of  winter.

The fine print:
  • They were picked when they were barely beginning to ripen and ripened indoors.
  • They taste better than most store-bought tomatoes, but nowhere near as good as they do in warmer weather.
  • Cold nights gives tomatoes the same mealy texture that they get in the refrigerator.
  • This tomato growing area is elevated, and under the light shelter of a large mesquite, giving it more frost protection than the rest of the garden.
However, in a mild winter area like Phoenix, a small amount of frost protection can prolong your tomato harvest, perhaps until your new plants start producing. Read more!