Archive for the ‘lawn’ Tag

My Water-Use Achilles Heel? Fruit Trees   Leave a comment

A couple weeks ago I finally finished the tallying of my summer 2013 water audit. Unlike my trash and energy audits where I have a good baseline from doing these audits since 2001, I have no baseline and no good methodology for a water audit. Until we moved into this house in 2010 I had never lived (as an adult) in a place where I got a water bill, and from 2010 through late 2012 those bills were bimonthly. It’s nearly impossible to use a bimonthly bill to get any sense of your water usage since you end up with summer watering mixed in with cooler months. In the past for my water audits I’ve timed how long showers last, how long it takes to wash my hands, etc. in an attempt to measure my water use. This time I decided to measure my outdoor water use since it’s all through hoses, and then just do the math for indoor use based on my bill. So I got little flow meters for both hoses, and started recording. Unfortunately I did not do a calibration check on either meter and one of them conked out before the end of the month. When I tallied up the amount I had supposedly used in my outdoor watering during the month, it was more than the total water usage in my bill.

Without having a way to calculate indoor vs. outdoor water usage, I’m still having to do this audit based on a lot of estimated numbers and various assumptions. The final tally gave my top 5 water uses as 1-watering trees, 2-showers, 3-toilets, 4-watering lawn, 5-watering potted plants. Assuming that I can use proportioning between the two water meters that were on the hoses, I was using SEVEN times more water on the trees than the lawn.

Now, I’m stingy when it comes to lawns. I don’t water during the winter (rainy season here in Sacramento), and I only water once per week in the summer. Plus we have a small front lawn and don’t water the little backyard patch-o-grass at all. But we have a couple trees in the front yard that are still young and getting established, and a quasi-orchard in the backyard (established nectarine, new apple, new pomegranate, established persimmon, established pear, established orange, established pumelo). But I was “deep watering” the trees by watering monthly and letting the hose water run slowly at the base of each tree for a while. And sometimes would forget to move the hose in a timely manner. They all started producing fruit only after I started watering them, so it is important to me to water them well, but since trees are on an annual cycle there’s no easy way to be sure that if I reduce water by x amount they will still fruit nicely.

I tried looking for suggestions of how much water to apply to fruit trees online, and didn’t get much help. Most of what I found I’m assuming is for commercial growers since it was talking about daily watering. When I did the math those suggestions weren’t far off from what I was applying monthly. I take that to mean I’m overwatering since you have to account for how much the soil can store so I may be applying as much water as the tree needs in a month but since I was doing it all at once much of that water would have been lost as excess.

For the end of last summer I switched to weekly watering for around 5-15 minutes depending on the size of the tree instead of monthly for 1 hr each. But this year with the drought and push to conserve water I’m wondering how to proceed appropriately with these fruit trees, and don’t yet have a plan that I can really feel comfortable with.

Posted May 18, 2014 by mayakey in gardening, water use

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There Are Native Plants, And Then There Are Native Native Plants   Leave a comment

Okay, the Sacramento Valley California Native Plant Society fall plant sale is coming up September 24-25, and it’ll soon be time for me to get that native plant garden in the ground to replace the outer third of our lawn (aka the dead third). I have a grand plan that I’ve been developing all summer and a great plant list. Oh, wait a minute, I have done NOTHING. So instead it’s crunch time to develop a plant list, and I think I’m going to do the “wing-it” landscaping design strategy.

The hang-up on this yard project is the fact that I’m picky (I know, shocking). I don’t just want plants native to the US, or native to California, but plants native to right where I live! It’s a genetic diversity thing. Plan communities are local communities. Plants within a given area are different genetically than even the same species of plants living in a different area because they adapt to their local climate. And when selecting specific plants, if it is native to the specific place where the garden is located, accounting for the various microclimates even on a small lot, it will likely survive and thrive with less work/inputs. Unfortunately, the only way to get local cultivars is to propagate cuttings or seeds collected locally. I know I’m certainly not going to do that, and I’m assuming most people feel the same. Plus there may be legal issues with collecting from wild plants. The next best thing is a local native plant nursery that propagates locally collected cuttings and seeds. Fortunately, in Sacramento we have Elderberry Farms Native Plant Nursery, a project of the Sacramento Valley CNPS. I think that most native plant nurseries probably have a mix of local natives and broader-area natives.

You do have to be smart when it comes to a native plant list, though, and check what their native ecosystem is. This is especially true in the west where we have big states that have many different ecosystems. A plant native to shady mountain forests isn’t going to thrive in an open desert garden, at least not without a lot of water. So my plant list will be developed first from the list of plants found at Mather Field, then from a broader central valley list, then from anywhere in the state. And there will be at least a few non-natives that will probably find their way in, especially since I have a 5-gallon bucket of paperwhites that need to go somewhere!

Posted September 15, 2011 by mayakey in environment, gardening

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Meditation While Weeding?   Leave a comment

I’ve heard people say that they find doing housework to be somewhat meditative. I’ve never really believed them. Sure, sometimes my mind wanders in la-la land while doing chores and thus gets a nice relaxing moment while my body is laboring, but I wouldn’t consider that meditation. If I try to really focus on the task at hand my stress level goes up, which I would not consider an indication of a meditative state. Besides, most of the time I’m trying for quality and speed together, so it’s the analytical mind that takes over. And that is definitely not a form of meditation.

So it was a pleasant surprise this past weekend when I settled down to work on the really annoying weed patches in the lawn, and found myself so engrossed in the task that my mind went blank for long stretches of time. (Then I would become aware that I needed to move to a new plot of grass.) My eyes and fingers didn’t really need an active brain to dictate what to pull since I’m pulling piles and piles of one specific plant (filaree, which is really easy to spot). And being out in nature, feeling dirt between my fingers and the sun on my back, and smelling the sent of damp turf also encouraged meditation. I can almost understand why my dad kept his “digging grass” project going for as long as I can remember. I personally do not want this to turn into a long term project, but at least now I can maybe understand what previously baffled me.

Or I started to understand until I realized that my mouth and throat were dry (especially bad on the morning of a 4-hour singing event), and tried to stand up. I had been weeding for an hour and a half, and my body HURT! So my recommendation to my self and anyone who plans to do some gardening/yardwork meditation: bring a timer or make sure that your spouse hears you ask them to call you in at a specific time.

Posted April 25, 2011 by mayakey in gardening, spiritual practices

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Lawn Weeds   Leave a comment

For someone who is not a big fan of lawns, I sure have been spending a lot of time lately maintaining ours. Specifically, as a person who likes meadows and strongly dislikes grass monoculture lawns, it seems almost incongruous how much time has been devoted lately to removing non-grass plants. First it was the catchweed bedstraw, which had me kneeling in one corner of the lawn for a few minutes every day pulling the plants out from the turf; now it is redstem filaree. It is interesting to look at my weed vs. not-a-weed decision matrix.

Some things are just plain weeds, defined as something that is invasive (non-native plant that is difficult to eradicate and disrupts the native ecology) or obnoxious. The catchweed bedstraw is obnoxious. Since the long stems and leaves are so clingy, it tends to end up in huge mats that grab onto your clothes and shoes every time you walk by it. I learned that the hard way at the old house. There was no way to prevent spreading the seeds when I removed the dead weeds this past summer, so I knew that I’d be on eradication mode this spring at the first sign of those seedlings.

Some things are most definitely not weeds to me, no matter what anyone else considers. Case in point: clover. Clover is beautiful and it is a nitrogen-fixer so it helps to provide nutrients for the other plants in the turf. I put dandelions in this category as well, actually. I’m excited this year for my spring detox to be able to walk out into my front yard and pick dandelion leaves instead of having to buy them at the grocery store.

Most other plants in the lawn have been in the lets-wait-and-see category. In the weeks after we dethatched and removed the mature weeds from the dirt/lawn area and reseeded with grass seed, the “weed seeds” outcompeted the grass seeds in some areas. I was certainly not going to pull hundreds of unidentifiable seedlings out from the dirt, so we let them grow. In most cases we really like the mix of plants, but there are a couple of areas where the non grass greatly outnumber the grass plants. That’s the case with the redstem filaree. The seedlings were these beautiful lacy plants, but in a couple of large patches they grew into a thick mat. They still looked fine, though, and we we let them be and figured that mowing would keep them from all going to seed and getting worse. Then they put out these beautiful little purple flowers, and I didn’t have the heart to mow flowers. At least until the immature seeds started popping up. So now those patches have been mowed twice in one week, and I’ve gone out with clippers a couple of times to remove the seed heads before they mature. Now that I’m seeing these plants in action I’ve decided that there’s another category of plants that can be considered weeds: anything that forms a mat. When the plants die, they leave a big hole in the ground cover, and that’s not pretty.

Posted March 25, 2011 by mayakey in environment, gardening

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Compost Trials: The Pit   4 comments

I don’t know how my dad did it. I’m about ready to throw in the towel on this whole pit composting thing. Or “soil incorporation” as the composting book that I got from the library called it. This is the form of composting that I am most familiar with, having grown up with it; although we knew it as “French composting”. During my entire childhood kitchen scraps and yard trimmings not slated for mulch or firewood would be dumped into “The Pit.” “The Pit” was basically a hole that snaked its way through our back yard eternally. The design was fairly elegant, actually, although the last decade has fuzzed my memory a bit. It was maybe 3 feet deep, with two flights. On the leading edge the top flight was always slightly more excavated than the bottom flight so that there was a step. The process went: dump organic waste into the back of the hole, dig out some of the leading edge to cover the waste, repeat. So the hole never got filled since the leading edge was always excavated in order to fill the back.

When we moved into our house this summer and I committed to composting all compostable material (defined as kitchen scraps, yard trimmings, and tissues), I defaulted to pit composting as a TEMPORARY method. Especially after discovering that 5-gallon buckets don’t make good composting bins. We didn’t have compost bins, and to be completely honest there are more important things that we need to spend our money on right now. Pit composting has the wonderful “free” feature. Unfortunately “free” means “labor-intensive”. Digging dirt is not easy, especially when the ground is baked in the summer and saturated in the winter. I don’t have the discipline that my dad had, so my process is more like: dig a 1 foot deep hole that is just over a shovel width wide and long enough for the amount of organic material to be composted, dump the bucket into the hole and hope that it is not more than 4-6 inches deep, cover it with the dirt I just excavated.

Since most of our back yard is concrete and I refuse to do this in the front lawn, the square of grass that we don’t have plans for yet in the backyard is perfect for the pit. In the summer the ground was really hard. I could not figure out why it was so hard to get the shovel through the first horizon since the grass was all dead. And once I was past the top few inches I could never get a shovel-full without having to bend down and pull out a large rock or chunk of concrete. Then fall came, the ground became moist and more easily dug, and I discovered that there is a plastic mesh about 3 inches below the surface. That’s what makes it so hard to get the shovel through! Someone please tell me that it is not normal to put plastic mesh under lawns. So I started peeling back a strip of “sod”, pulling out the mesh, digging my hole, and then filling it and replacing the “sod.” Then winter came with rains. And now the ground is saturated. I try to hold off on digging, but when our holding bucket and compost bowl are both full, there’s nothing for it but to dig mud. Mud is HEAVY! And I can’t find the plastic mesh in the mud to remove it, either. But at least I also can’t find any rocks.

So far I’ve made it through less than 10% of the grass patch, but I seriously doubt I’m going to make it too much further. It’s not all bad; in addition to the composting, there have been advantages. Namely removing buried rocks and concrete chunks, removing the plastic mesh, finding irrigation pipes and other pipes, and hopefully adding some health into what appears to my inexperienced eyes to be poor unhealthy soil. I am officially declaring “no more digging mud” and just piling the scraps when it is raining (or when I just don’t have time to dig, or when my back hurts). Since I have no intention to water the grass in the summer (and will therefore have baked soil again), the only times of year when it is even practical to compost this way are spring and fall. It’ll be a while before we actually have landscaping plans for the back yard, and I think the grass patch will stay as a grass patch, so there’s no aesthetic conflict with the pit yet. Whenever that aesthetic conflict does occur, though, it will be the final death-knell of the pit.

Posted January 25, 2011 by mayakey in gardening

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The Baby Lawn   Leave a comment

Well the grass seed we planted a couple of weeks ago has sprouted and we’ve now got a lush green yard. Or at least that’s how it looks from a distance.

Up close it looks like a crazy green and brown patchwork. In some places the existing clump grasses and clovers went gang-busters with the daily watering required to sprout the grass seeds, resulting in dark green lumps. In the places where the tall fescues were already established the grass itself didn’t grow too much, but there are seed stalks a couple feet long waving in the breeze. In some places the fine blades of the newly-sprouted grass seed mix look soft and welcoming, if a bit sparse. In most places the weed seeds that were already in the soil took advantage of the moisture to create a carpet of lacy seedlings. And in some places my hand scattering was uneven and the dirt prevails. I suppose it is beautiful in it’s own way, but I’m still having a difficult time looking positively on the whole lawn-making experience.

Hopefully that lacy weed seedling carpet isn’t crowding out the grass. I’m not bothered by the seedlings themselves as much as the thought that if the grass doesn’t take, next summer we’ll be back at square one. There is some extra seed, so I’m thinking of just scattering it in the bare and sparse areas now that the rains have apparently started. The other thing that has been bugging me is that these are all cool season grasses. Maybe it comes from growing up in Albuquerque, but I prefer the look of warm season grasses. Unfortunately we were only able to find cool season grasses in the big box stores and the nursery we visited. There is a small patch of bermudagrass in the lawn, and I might try to propagate that around. I prefer buffalograss, but beggars can’t be choosers. Since the temps here in Sacramento can reach the 100’s for long stretches I find it crazy that warm season grasses are so hard to find. Then again, with 20 inches of rain a year that mostly fall during the winter, maybe the cool season grasses are better in this climate.

Posted October 30, 2010 by mayakey in gardening, home

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Bye Bye Weed Patch   Leave a comment

The big project this weekend was (re)seeding the lawn, and boy am I feeling it. In an odd way this project was/is both horrifing and exciting to me. I’ll start with the good.

When we moved into this house it had been vacant for about two years. That means two summers in Sacramento with no watering. We were told by the neighborhood kids that at some point the weeds got overwhelming and someone mowed it all down, but other than that there was no maintenance done. As a result most of the area was just a dirt patch with a few patches of grass, and there were a large number of woody-stemmed weeds that only got worse when we moved in and started watering. Since we closed on the house in July, there was nothing to be done at the time but trim the weeds. Surprisingly, despite my desire for beauty the aesthetic hasn’t bothered me that much, probably since we have all the pretty rose bushes near the house. But I still know that a completely unmaintained yard has got to be really bad feng shui, and is especially undesirable right now since we would like to foster good luck and bring good things (specifically, a healthy baby) into this house. Plus, I figure that our neighbors would prefer we not have a dirt and weed patch, and I want good relations with our neighbors. So it is exciting to try to turn the blank dirt canvas into a something living. (Oh, yeah, and my dad bred a sick love of yard work into my soul.)

So why am I horrified? In general I hate lawns. Some lawns have purpose, and I have no problems with them; but most lawns just sit there looking boring and bland, consuming excessive water and synthetic fertilizers, and not supporting local ecosystems. It horrifies me that I am ON PURPOSE actually planting one of those monstrosities. A big huge expanse of boring grass that sucks up water. Not only that, but since we’re planting from seed I am actually having to water DAILY, instead of my usual weekly watering. The mantra in the back of my head that I am using to get myself through this is “it’s just yard gesso”. It’s not a permanent lawn, it’s the first step in figuring out the landscaping. Part of it will likely stay lawn so that I have somewhere to hand wash my car, and because I’m afraid that no lawn would hurt our resale value in this water-guzzling part of the world. But we will put in a shade tree, and hopefully some low-water use native plants, maybe edible plants, some flowers maybe… The purpose of the grass is basically to give us a living canvas on which to work. The dead canvas is rather uninspirational.

Hence Saturday was devoted to dethatching (thank you for helping and making me go inside, sitting down, and getting water before I passed out honey!), scarifying, scattering, covering, and watering. And now I’m hoping that the seeds sprout and live so that I don’t have to do those latter actions again.

Posted October 10, 2010 by mayakey in gardening, home, water use

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Lawn Meadow   Leave a comment

I realized this weekend when I glanced out the front door that right now we have the kind of lawn that I could really love, the meadow lawn. Even better, the house immediately across the street also has a meadow lawn, so when I look out our front door I see these two areas of lush green with lacy grass seed heads and bright yellow flowers that are just so beautiful.

Meadowy lawns in fore and background

I’m not really a lawn person. I like functional expanses of grass, things like playing fields, and I don’t care for non-functional expanses of mowed near-monocultures of grass. All of the benefits of a lawn that just sits there can be provided by other vegetation, and the other vegetation have the added benefit of looking nice. I just do not see the aesthetic attraction of large expanses of non-functional grass.

Closeup of front lawn with flowers

This is the end of my sixth year renting here, and I’ve had to put up with a conventional lawn the entire time. Our original landlady had a lawn service who cut the grass way too short, and if I didn’t water it enough to keep it green all summer, she would (and she would waste a lot more water doing so). This spring our third landlord apparently didn’t realize that we have not been doing our lawn care and at first I didn’t care to enlighten them since I liked the lush growth. Eventually it got too much and there were woody stemmed weeds growing. I pulled out the woody weeds and shortly after that the property manager mowed (not too short, yay!) when they put the other half of the duplex up for rent. It’s now been several weeks and the lawn has fully recovered from that drastic mowing.

Lawns with flowers in fore and background

I confess that I was feeling kind of bad about the lawn before this weekend. Looking at it from the perspective of the commuter I was comparing it to some of the “well-groomed” lawns on the block and thinking it was starting to look raggedy. I didn’t see the beauty from my car. I didn’t see the beauty until I enjoyed a moment of relaxed quiet on a weekend, hearing birds chirping all around me and seeing the seed heads and flowers waving gently in the breeze. Then I realized that I had been missing a gem, probably the only gem I’ve experienced in this house since the side yard was devastated (a whole new story).

Posted May 16, 2010 by mayakey in home, simple living

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