Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Watching Grass Grow: The Return of the Buffalo

We had heat-tolerant buffalo grass in Phoenix and loved the low maintenance and toughness of it.  The landscape plan in New Mexico includes a xeriscape "meadow" of grasses and wildflowers.  Instead of the plugs, I'm using seeds of a buffalo grass variety better adapted for high desert, mixed with blue grama grass and a small number of other native grasses for accents.
Buffalo cow and calf enjoying a stroll in Yellowstone National Park

The front yard was mostly neglected bare dirt. After the visible weeds were killed off, the seeds were scattered over the bare dirt and covered with jute erosion control mesh as a mulch to keep the seed from blowing all the way to El Paso. When the weather warms up, I'll be watering every few days until the grass is established. I'll also be pulling weeds.

Seed Sources

Western Native Seed of Coaldale Colorado
Xeriscape Lawn Mix, 70% buffalo grass/30% blue grama grass
Because the grama grass seeds are smaller than the buffalo grass, it's probably equal quantities of each seed.
Xeriscape Wildflower Mix  A whole bunch of stuff in this.

Prairie Moon Nursery was the source for some of the accent grasses and wildflowers. I'll be writing about them later.  I put about half of the grasses from prairie Moon into the main lawn mix and the rest will be planted as drifts or specimens

Also, I had grass and flower seed collected from along the roads here that I blended into the grass or flower seeds before scattering them. It will be interesting to see what grows. Read more!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

4 Weekends = Improved Curb Appeal

No matter how great the interior of your house may be, first you have to convince buyers that it's worth it to get out of the car and into the house. That's what "curb appeal" is.  I'm assuming you have a short time to get ready to sell your house, so this advice concentrates on removing negative curb appeal quickly and cheaply, not adding positives.
This would take more than four weekends.

The typical suburban house will take about 4 weekends dedicated to yard work to remove the negatives from the curb appeal before the listing date. That gives the shrubs time to recover from pruning, and the lawn time to green up. If your landscape is exceptionally large or neglected, some steps might take more than one weekend. Evaluate what you can do for yourself and hire professionals for the rest.

  • Dead plants don't sell houses.
  • If potential buyers can't see the house behind trees and bushes, they won't want to buy it.
  • Clean and tidy is appealing.
  • Well-maintained is appealing.
  • Closely mowed green weeds have more curb appeal than overgrown or dead lawns.

Read more!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Late winter planting to avoid the spring rush?

The experiment - I'm exploring the possibility of starting leafy greens in late fall and "storing" them in the garden under a frost cloth during the winter so they are out of my way when I need the seed starting space for chiles (we have our priorities in this state).
If it works, I can have a three-planting rotation for leafy greens: Late fall for harvest in early spring, late spring for harvest in spring/summer, late summer for harvesting into the winter.

I planted out seedling butterhead lettuce in soil blocks December 3. Earlier plantings of chard, kale, bok choy and leaf lettuce - set out in beginning in early November - are looking happy and putting out leaves.  I've been harvesting since mid-January.  They are under a frost cloth tent, but it's not heated.
Bok Choi, planted as seedlings in December
Read more!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The problem with USDA Plant Hardiness Zones

Any system that puts Phoenix, Arizona and Orlando, Florida together has a serious flaw.  But they are both USDA Hardiness Zone 10.
"USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones."
What it really means:  The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map helps determine which plants are unlikely to die of cold weather at a location, not thrive.   There are many other reasons your location will kill unsuitable plants.  The picture below shows part of the problem.
Both city parks are in USDA Hardiness Zone 10

Read more!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Cumin Confusion: Black Seed, Black Cumin, Kalijiri and Kala Jeera

The confusion among cumin, black cumin, black seed, kala jeera and kalijiri is a great example of why we should use botanical names, not common names, even in recipes.  By the time the spices reached the English, the culinary names were totally screwed up. And if you buy Kalijiri instead of Kala Jeera, your curry will be disgusting.

Let's start with the edible spices:
Read more!

Monday, January 9, 2017

On-Line Business Owners: Are You Really Ready for Success?

Ewwwww ... My Blog EXPLODED!!! 

EXPLODE!!!!, in boldface with multiple exclamation points, is a word commonly used by those on the shady side of the business of promoting things. Their spam emails tell you they can "Make your on-line business EXPLODE!!!" Or they promise to EXPLODE!!! your website traffic, sales, profits, or maybe even that undersized part of your male anatomy.

What they don't tell you is that it is not always a good idea to EXPLODE!!! traffic or business.
It sounds strange, but businesses can fail because they succeeded, but didn't plan how to handle the success.

Reconstruction of the Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot
If it had exploded as planned.

Read more!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

How To Salvage Floor and Wall Tile

If you are remodeling, you might have wall, floor or fireplace tiles worth salvaging for resale or to re-use in the new version of the house.  Or you may need to remove intact tiles from "over here" to replace damaged tiles "over there". Removing tiles intact is not a difficult project. It requires a little hand strength, and a few common tools that can be used on other projects. It takes time more than anything else.

I will explain some tile removal techniques, using a 1980s shower stall as the victim example.

This is a typical wall installation - the wallboard or backer board, some mortar (called "mud) to build the thickness up to match the edge tiles, a layer of wire mesh embedded in the mud, and then the thinset mortar that holds the tile to the mud.   Floor tiles do not usually have the wire mesh, and may be laid right over concrete. 

The typical layers: wall or backer board, "mud", wire mesh, thinset mortar, tile

Read more!

No-Tool Frost Cover Supports for Tender Landscape Plants

We joke that the the classiest house in the Phoenix area looks like a low-class Victorian washerwoman's house when a freeze is coming, because Phoenicians grab anything at hand to cover plants (Check the images. The Superman sheets are fab!) when one of the rare freezes is coming.  King size sheets and muslin curtains are popular, propped up with anything from saw horses to dining chairs to keep the covers off the plants.  Plastic drop cloths are popular, but you can cook your plants under the plastic if you forget to take it off.

If you have a bit more time to prepare, or live where frost protection is needed several times a winter, try this inexpensive solution that won't leave you sitting on the floor with no sheets on the bed. It looks like an old-fashioned circus tent.
Frost Cloth and Rebar Tent
Read more!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Four Cheap, Effective Fertilizers

For Occasional Use by a Lazy Gardener

I seldom use fertilizers, but if I have to, I use the simplest ones that will do the job.  I am reluctant to use combination fertilizer and weed killer or pest killer. If landscaping has weeds or pests, I'll buy the right single-purpose product. I am also reluctant to apply "time-release" products because in my experience, they are timed for the typical Eastern lawn and garden with more rainfall.
1914 Fertilizer Brochure Cover
If a landscape that I'm responsible for needs fertilizer, one of these four fertilizers will be applied: ammonium nitrate, ammonium sulfate, ammonium phosphate, or soil sulfur. In keeping with my gardening philosophy, they are the simplest, cheapest fertilizers you can buy.
Read more!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Controlling Caterpillar Pests with Packing Tape

I was coming in from the laundry room before sunrise one June morning and in what little light there was, I saw something moving down a mesquite tree that shades the patio. It was a squirming army of caterpillars of some sort, moving down the trunk as fast as they could wiggle and vanishing into the pebbles around the tree.

The caterpillar infestation explained the tree's failure to thrive that spring - the bean crop was vanishing, and unlike the other mesquites, it had not put out many new shoots. It wasn't dying, just not thriving, and had never recovered from the usual ratty winter mesquite look.

A co-worker and I discussed the easiest way to get the pests under control and came up with a brilliant idea.

The brilliant plan:

  • Let the worms get up in the tree from their daytime hiding place in the pebble mulch.
  • Band the trunk with an adhesive material late that night.
  • Worms would get stuck on the adhesive on their way down at dawn.
  • Mockingbirds would arrive at daylight and eat the worms for breakfast.
  • The tree would be saved.
Caterpillars on and above the packing tape

What actually happened with the brilliant plan:

Read more!