Archive for the ‘yard’ Tag

It’s Alive! The Tree Is Alive!   4 comments

(This post is part of the Down-To-Earth “On My Mind” feature.)

That was my exciting thought of this morning. I was making my breakfast smoothie, looking out the kitchen window, when I realized that there were blossoms on one of the mystery trees. We’ve got seven trees in our back yard: one jujube, one nectarine (at least I think so), one dead lemon, one living lemon (maybe), one living unknown-possibly-citrus, and two that we don’t know either what they are or whether they are really alive. Now at least we know that one of them is alive, and hopefully we’ll find out what it is. I raced out with my camera to take these photos. The white blossoms are the mystery tree, and the pink blossoms are what I think is a nectarine tree.

As I took these photos I realized that I need to spend more time looking for beauty in the back yard, it is kind of neglected. My energy has been focused on the front yard because it is easier, ready for me to create the yard I want with no jack hammer rental required. The front yard already had beautiful rose bushes to entice me out as well. And for both positive feng shui and thinking ahead to future resale, the front yard is key. So the back yard still has the old mirrored closet doors we removed from all the bedrooms, and the pile of lumber and metal from the sketchy awning the previous owners had, and the ugly storage shed, and a lot of concrete. While it really makes sense to focus on the front, I need to remember to pay attention to the back yard so that I’m ready when its turn comes.

Posted March 10, 2011 by mayakey in 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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Our Trees Are Here! Our Trees Are Here!   Leave a comment

Last week we got our free shade trees from our utility company. I was planning to plant them this weekend, but I forgot to call Underground Service Alert (811 Call Before You Dig) on Wednesday so I have to wait until the end of Monday to plant. I am pretty sure that there is a water line and cable beneath our lawn, but since I don’t know exactly where I want the utility to mark the lines. Utility marking is something that I have to do all the time for work, but requesting a dig ticket outside of work is a new experience.

I’m pretty excited about the shade trees. Well, I’m ecstatic about one of them and hopeful about the other. Our local utility company (SMUD) has a program giving free shade trees to customers that request them. It’s a limited list of shade trees (no fruit trees or evergreens, and they have selected a number of species as particularly appropriate for the area), but I really don’t understand why more people don’t participate. I mean, it’s FREE. All you have to do is meet with an urban forester to select the tree(s) and the location, and then dig the hole and care for the tree. In a few years you get shade! We might not see much return on “investment” since the trees might not yet be fully grown before we move again, but since the “investment” was zero I can live with that. We’ll get some shade, and hopefully better resale value.

The tree that I am excited about is a native Valley Oak. It’s a large tree that will be planted out near the street. I am very passionate about native plants, and of all the trees native to the Sacramento area, the oaks are my favorites. I’ve been nervously mapping the location, though, because the location of this tree will be a huge factor in figuring out what area of the new lawn gets removed for xeriscape. Since a valley oak is a low water use tree, I’d like low water use landscaping around it. We’re going for improving resale value, though, and I don’t want to do anything that might have the opposite effect. Sacramento is a seriously water-guzzling town, and I’m afraid that removing all of the lawn will have a negative effect. Plus, I need to leave enough lawn accessible to the driveway for me to drive my car onto the lawn so that I can wash it by hand.

The tree that I am not so excited about is the eastern redbud. We had been planning to get just one tree, but the urban forester took one look at our front yard and said we could easily fit two trees, a large and a small tree. They don’t have the western redbud on the list because for some reason it wasn’t deemed appropriate (size? color? root structure? branching? apparently they look at a number of variables). So she suggested the eastern redbud instead. To be completely honest, I’m kind of regretting that decision. Maybe we should have just gotten one tree and gone looking for a small native tree on our own. Honestly, though, I hope it’ll work because the small tree is the most important one for shading the front window. And I know full well that if we had gone the route of finding (and buying) a different small tree near the house, it wouldn’t have happened this fall.

Posted November 15, 2010 by mayakey in energy use, gardening, home

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