Our Mission:

Our Mission: To enable individuals and communities to take an active part in the cultivation of systems that provide the highest quality fruits, vegetables, herbs and other yields, in a way that benefits themselves, cares for the land and environment, and provides a surplus to use, share and reinvest into the system.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Zero Waste and Bluebirds

Happy First Day of Winter and the Winter Solstice!

Photo: Iowa DNR website
Today I bring you another video with a way to reduce your waste, by building bluebird houses with your wood scraps.  When I build a compost system, fence or raised beds I sometimes have scraps that need to be disposed of.  If they are large enough I like to use them to build birdhouses.

Bluebirds are one of our most loved and useful birds.  They bring a flash of color, and eat a large amount of grasshoppers, beetles and larvae.  Numbers have dwindled significantly due to competition for nesting cavities from the English House Sparrow.  By putting up birdhouses we can help them out and gain some insect eating friends.

Here's more information from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources - Eastern Bluebird

 

Here are the bluebird house plans I used as a base.



Here's a wren house plan if you have smaller pieces.  Wrens are another insect eating machine and do well in town.  Their pretty song is quite loud, so you may want to locate these birdhouses further from bedroom windows.



I won't update the blog over the holidays, so unless you are also following on Facebook, have

a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

More Gallery Updates

I've been furiously trying to keep up with several classes I am involved with from Design to Soil Health, as well as working on a project in Urbandale.  The design class has really intensified as far as course work. 

I do have several new blog topics started but don't feel like they have enough information to be "complete."  When ready we will add a couple more under-appreciated plants and techniques for getting more yield from traditionally styled landscapes.


For now I'll share a couple more updates to the Gallery page.


Compost Bins-

 This composting system was made to compliment a backyard garden in West Des Moines for a
family that wanted to reduce their environmental impact and provide a benefit to their garden.




Older Projects

 I built this natural stone retaining wall & tree rings South of Grand Avenue when I was fresh out of college working for Heard Gardens, Ltd. 

I built a lot of stone walls that summer for them, as well as other styles of retaining walls, flagstone and brick patios, tree plantings and perennial flower bed installations.

My crew even planted several trees at the Brenton Arboretum in Dallas Center and Meredith's green space at the West end of Grand & Locust Avenues in downtown Des Moines.




This retaining wall was a rebuild of an existing wall that was showing the effects of time.  We tore down the remaining stones, fixed the slumping hill behind, provided drainage to move water away from the back of the wall reducing the pressure on it, and rebuilt it using the existing stones.  This was my first freelance project and followed it up the next year by doing the upper retaining wall, including a short stairway in the middle.

Large amounts of water flowed down the hill behind this Urbandale home during heavy rains.  This runoff caused flooding in the basement and the homeowner needed a solution.  The dry streambed was suggested as the perfect mix of practicality and aesthetics. 

A channel was dug that moved the water to the side of her home where it continued harmlessly down the hill.  River rock was used to fill the channel, giving it a natural look and resistance to erosion.  Larger boulders and ornamental grasses provided visual interest.



I hope you've enjoyed these pictures of green grass and sunshine!  You can still enjoy the warm weekend, but don't hold it against me if I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas! 

It won't be long and the days will start to get longer again.  I can't wait! 

Thanks for checking in!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

2015 International Year of the Soils

The 68th United Nations General Assembly has designated 2015 as the International Year of Soils.
The Food and Agriculture Organization has been nominated to implement the program.  Watch their promo video below.

 
Symphony of the Soil

The views expressed in Symphony of the Soil are not necessarily the views of Abundant Design, LLC. 
 
I hope you can find time to watch these videos, learn more about the soil that provides for us, and gain an appreciation for it in the year to come.
 
Thanks for checking in!

 


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Backyard Makeover

Well we've had quite the weather ups and downs this week.  About 4" of snow fell earlier, and now today temperatures are in the 50's.  It'll help clean up the icy spots on the driveway and the sidewalks where the snow blew in after it was shoveled.

Between shoveling the drive and eating turkey I updated the Gallery page with one of my first projects as Abundant Design.  Check it out!


Waveland Area Backyard Makeover- After a garage had been refurbished/rebuilt the backyard space was a patch of bare dirt.  We had a nearly blank slate to put any new additions to the yard, but with any rain making a muddy mess we needed to act quickly.
                               
The homeowners had a small concrete slab patio which held their dining set, but they were hoping for a larger space to place a firepit and use for entertaining.  A ninety square foot expansion was built using reclaimed flagstone to meet this goal.  Low maintenance moss will be planted in the gaps.

 A mulched play area where the swing set would be situated was sectioned off with an alternating double brick border.  The existing shrubs and hostas were mulched, to reduce weeds and retain moisture, using a natural edge cut in.  Afterwards the remaining space in the yard was sodded. 

They were also off to a great start with  a small vegetable garden, dual compost tumblers and a rain barrel, but were really interested in perennial crops such as raspberries and strawberries.  Although the yard was heavily shaded by mature trees, there was an area along the property line that had good sun exposure.  This area would provide a planting area for the berry plants that was out of traffics way but allowed easy access to the fruit.  Since it was on a slope, terraced raised beds were installed.



I hope you enjoyed this quick summary of what a project looks like before and after, along with a quick sketch of the plan. 

If you would like to have a project done this coming Spring, or even get a design ready to do it yourself, contact me and we can arrange a time to talk about your productive and sustainable landscaping options!

Have a great week!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

This week we, as a nation, will celebrate Thanksgiving. A reminder of the Pilgrims' first feasts and celebrations of "giving thanks" to the Creator, during their early struggles at Plymouth colony. 

I want to send out a special thank you to my customers. I am glad I could help you on your journey to a more sustainable lifestyle and bring beauty to your home, with a strong foundation for abundant
yields of the highest quality fruits and vegetables available. In time, I trust the bounty from what we have created will be featured on your Thanksgiving celebration menus. My hope in the future is for those who follow us will be thankful for the trees we've planted, the rich soils we have made and the clean water we've contributed to.

I also want to say thank you to all of you who have supported me in other ways; family and friends who have believed in me and this new adventure I've started. Especially to my wife and kids who have had to put up with me being gone a little more than usual. Those that have helped spread the word of what I am doing, guided me in business decisions and provided help with my videos and blog. I am truly blessed and for that I am Thankful.

Squanto's Garden by Bill Heid
As a thank you gift to you, here is a link to a downloadable .pdf of  Squanto's Garden.
 
"Whether you are an experienced gardener, or just starting out, "Squanto's Garden" has plenty to teach you. The information in this book is designed to help any gardener learn about soil and how it affects the things that grow on it. One of the best aspects of this type of gardening is that you will learn to work with nature, rather than against it. You will learn to create a garden, or transform an existing one, using the same techniques that were used to bring about the first Thanksgiving. You will also learn important and little known information about that early period in American history, and the real truth about the Native American Squanto."

And at the bottom are some printable coloring pages I made for the kids to enjoy!  If dinner gets late it might help keep them busy :)
 

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

 


 

 
 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Protecting Plants from Rabbits, and more

The weather has sure changed this week.  The warm start turned into a freezing spell followed with a couple inches of snow yesterday.  In the suburbs rabbits will be putting increased pressure on your planted areas.  Buds and branch tips, especially ones just sticking out of the snow, are easy pickings for our little cottontails.  In the video that goes with this weeks post I'll show you how I installed a temporary fence to encourage the rabbits to look elsewhere!


Other things you might want to be thinking about is mulching your trees, especially newer ones to stabilize soil temperatures and retain moisture. Your garlic and other bulbs will appreciate a good layer of mulch too.  I just put 3-4" of old straw over our garlic.  You can probably prune most trees that need it, as well, but there is no rush as they will be dormant for a few months now.

If you are planning to change over any part of your lawn to garden beds; or the installation of compost bins or other things with posts in the ground you better get on it!  The soil probably won't be workable for much longer.

Have a great week!  Stay warm!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Swords into Plowshares

This week we celebrate Veteran's Day in America.  In today's geo-political climate, the War on Terror stretching on and on, we have more and more men and women to commemorate.  Not to mention our fathers and mothers, cousins and grandparents who may have served our nation from conflicts around the world; Panama, Serbia and Kuwait to Vietnam, Korea and WWII.  These brave men and women have gone when called.  They may have witnessed the unspeakable, and cannot forget what we cannot imagine.  For each of them, we say

"Thank You"
 

There are a multitude of groups around the nation today doing work supporting veterans with their transition to civilian life.  Many of these groups are teaching veterans skills in agriculture, sustainable farming, local food and permaculture.  Homegrown by Heroes, The Valhalla Project, and The Farmer Veteran Coalition are just a few.  These organizations are truly helping vets beat their swords into plowshares.

The following movie trailer is for GROUND OPERATIONS: Battlefields to Farmfields, a documentary and social action campaign championing the growing network of combat veterans transitioning into sustainable farming, ranching and artisan food production careers.



It can be a difficult transition, as the economy has yet to fully recover and many of their new job skills are not directly transferable.  Returning to family life after a long deployment, or having no family and dealing with loneliness, can be a struggle.  And far too often physical injuries add a level of difficulty, or psychological trauma weighs heavily on their mental well-being.  These groups are serving several of these needs.  Career skills training and placement are the most obvious ones.  But also, working in the outdoors, with nature and the soil can bring a sense of well-being that is needed by those who are struggling.

Support these organizations, if you can through donations, purchasing their products or even just sending them a note of encouragement or liking their Facebook pages.  I also encourage you to reach out this week to a veteran family member or friend, and say, "Thank you for your service."  They will probably be a little shy about it, but let them know you truly appreciate their sacrifice.  You and I may not support the wars, but let's support the warriors. 

This week November 9-15, as our way of saying Thank You, we will give a Free 1hr On-Site Consultation (with bubble diagram) for any Veteran or Veteran's group, or 10% off any other service.

               They will live again in freedom
               In the garden of the Lord.
               They will walk behind the ploughshare,
               They will put away the sword.
               The chain will be broken
               And all men will have their reward. — finale of Les Misérables

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Cold SNAP!

We had a solid frost Friday night, I guess that is a typical start to November.  Our peppers and tomatoes cashed in their chips for good, and I need to bring in the rosemary and lemongrass pots for the winter.  This weeks update I will give you some hints and tips that I thought of sharing while doing things around our landscape.

Tree planting
A week or so ago I planted a couple small sumac trees in our yard.  Fall is a great time for planting deciduous trees, as is gives the roots plenty of time to grow before new Spring shoots start to grow and the Summer heat returns.  We might be passed the best time as soil temperatures are dropping below 50°F, but if you hurry this week you should be ok, especially if you can capitalize on a great plant clearance deal at your favorite store or nursery!  Cooler temperatures reduce evaporation and transpiration*, which gives trees time to recover from the transplanting process.  This also helps reduce, but not eliminate, the need for watering.  As the really cold weather hits and the ground begins to freeze stop watering.  Once the ground is frozen, guessing early to mid December this year, give your newly planted trees a good covering (3-4") of protective mulch.*not the case with evergreens, so save these for Spring when available soil moisture returns.
  • Transplant trees before soil temps drop below 50-55°F
  • Water well until soil begins to freeze
  • Mulch well once ground has frozen
  • Save evergreens for Spring

Garlic and Flower Bulbs
I also planted some Garlic, as well as Daffodils, Tulips and Crocus this weekend.  Garlic is
my Achilles heel, so hopefully this will be my year.  My Spring plantings have failed every year.  Last year's Fall planting may have been too early and the shoots grew too big and froze; but this year I hope to have hit the window.  I gently removed the dried skin and separated the cloves.  The largest cloves should be the best producers but I planted every one.  I set them in well-loosened soil, about 4" apart several inches deep with the top, pointy end up so that the tip is a couple inches under the soil.  I plant intensively in raised beds no wider than 4 feet, so I can reach the middle without stepping into them.  With no need for access rows to walk down, I use the suggested in row spacing in every direction to utilize the bed space more efficiently.  This also reduces weeds since there is less bare ground.

  • Gently remove skin and separate cloves
  • Largest cloves are best
  • Plant tip up, with tip 2-3" below surface
  • Space 3-6" apart depending on space available, wider spacing allows larger bulbs

I planted the Daffodils and Tulips about 6" deep with 6" spacing per the packaging.  The Crocus were done about 2-3" deep and apart.  Like the garlic cloves, plant these with the pointy shoot tip up for best results.  These flowers look best when planted in masses, as opposed to one here and there.  You can also group them together or intermix the larger Daffodils into clumps of smaller crocuses.
 
In your landscapes the Spring bulbs companion well with other plants that break dormancy later in the year.  They are especially good for fruit tree guilds.  Their early growth will grab nutrients and hold them so the early rains will not wash them away, and can release these as their foliage dies back and the other plants are at peak growth and fruiting.  They can also help draw in insects that help pollinate early flowering fruit such as cherries.
  • Largest bulbs best
  • Plant 2-3x as deep as the diameter of the bulb (2" bulb, tip 4-6" down)
  • Mass plantings more aesthetic than individual plants
  • Companion plants that hold nutrients

Water these new bulbs in very well.


Leaves & Composting
Leaves are also in ample supply.  Our big ash trees dropped their leaves early so these are already mixed into the compost bins.  These are a great and ample source of organic matter for your soil and carbon input for balancing your compost mix if you monitor this.  I don't pay much attention to my carbon(brown)/nitrogen(green) blend as long as everything is mixed well, and leaves are nearly perfect in and of themselves.  If you added nothing but leaves you would end up with a beautiful compost!
  • Leaves = Great Compost!

    Thanks for stopping by, and happy growing!
     

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Dandelion - Underappreciated Plants & "Weeds"

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
 
Many plants have acquired the label, "Weed" or "Invasive" regardless of where they grow; especially in our society that loves a manicured lawn or crop field.

According to Merriam-Webster.com the definition of a weed is:  a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth; especially: one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants

So, the location of growth is the true factor in labeling a weed.

Probably the single most hated weed in the suburban landscape, the dandelion is actually a beneficial plant for your grass and landscape, in reasonable numbers.  Edible in it's entirety, a traditional medicinal plant, and dynamic nutrient accumulator the dandelion has gotten a bad rap.  Isn't it interesting that the companies that will sell you fertilizer for your grass, are the same ones the sell you the weed killer to eliminate dandelion and clover?

Here's another video in the Underappreciated Plants & Weeds series.


If you've ever made a dandelion stem bracelet, or chain, you might recall a sticky, milky sap.  Researchers are now looking to use this as a replacement for natural rubber from trees.  Automobile, truck and aircraft tires need a good percentage of natural rubber for flexibility at lower temperatures.  Already leading tire producers have invested millions into breeding dandelion, with increased size and harvestability.  Rubber yields in test locations have been equal to or better than rubber tree plantations per acre.

So the dandelion isn't as bad as we believe.  I still pull a few for mulch and to make sure they don't get out of control,  but maybe we should eat a few too.

Hope you enjoyed this post!  Have a great week, the weather looks about perfect!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Winterizing Your Rainwater System and More

We've had a few cold nights with frosts and borderline freezes.  Our tomatoes are still trying to ripen and the leaves haven't given up yet.  But as the cold sets in for good we want to make sure our water systems are prepared for winter. 

Freezing temperatures causes water to expand as it turns to ice.  As it expands it can cause damage to items that hold it.  Proper preparation can save you hard work and money.

Sprinklers, timers and hose nozzles should all be drained, and if possible stored in a garage or shed to keep snow and ice from accumulating in them.  We have an irrigation meter through the city that will also need the same treatment.  If you have very hard water now would be a good time to soak these overnight in a strong vinegar solution to remove or reduce the calcium deposits.  A good brushing afterwards might help extend their service life too.

This hose will need to be unrolled and drained or else trapped water in the bottom of the loops can stress the hose in these areas.  You can do this by placing it on a sloping area of your yard, or better yet a hill.  If you have in-ground irrigation, an air compressor will help clear the lines.

For your rainwater catchment you need to keep the same considerations in mind.  Water expands when it freezes, and keeping them free of rain, snow and ice until the season is over.  I'll explain several methods for winterizing your rain barrel and overflow system in this video.  I'll also show how to easily clear the sediment filter which should be done several times each year.


I hope you enjoyed this weeks post, and learned a little, or at least were reminded to care of the things that help you take care of your plants.

Thanks for checking in!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Embrace Diversity

I often hear a lot of talk promoting diversity, in our communities, workplaces and government agencies.  There is a lot to be gained with a diverse group working towards a particular goal.  A diverse workforce can bring a broad set of experiences to help solve a problem.  They might have encountered a similar problem before and can share how they solved it.  People with different backgrounds might have different ways of thinking about a problem, and the group may be able to build off of each others ideas.  Different languages and cultural experiences can help a business capitalize on markets they might not have been able to without a diverse workforce.  These are benefits you've most likely heard of in the workplace.  But did you know, we can use diversity to benefit our landscapes?

For example, several cultivars of apple tree will allow you to have ripe apples from late summer well into fall.  If you separate these with a plum or pear tree between, apple pests will have a hard time moving from tree to tree.

Another example would be the "Three Sisters" used by some Native American tribes.  Maize (corn), beans and squash were often grown together to benefit each other.  The maize provides corn, and at the same time gives the beans a natural trellis to grow on.  Besides the bean for food, they also work with nodule forming bacteria to fix nitrogen form the air which can act as a fertilizer for the corn and squash.  The squash grows low to the ground with large leaves that helps hold in moisture and act as a living mulch suppressing weeds.

Flowers in your garden not only look pretty but can also serve multiple purposes, sometimes called "stacking functions."  Marigolds can provide control of harmful nematodes, a sort of tiny worm.  Most flowers will attract and feed bees and other pollinators.  Some also provide habitat for predatory insects that can reduce harmful insect populations.  Don't forget there are herbal and medicinal flowers too!

Permaculture Design Principle #10
Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.

In the forest garden above species were selected for their food yield, including cherry, blueberry and more.  An herb mound on the right was also included near the Redbud tree which fixes nitrogen similar to the beans mentioned previously.  The horseradish in the back right corner can be harvested for its spicy root, but also mines nutrients from the subsoil.  The leaves can be cut to use as mulch providing these minerals for the other plants.  Echinacea and other flowers are grown in the sunny openings to attract beneficial insects and for their potential medicinal value.

Water features can provide habitat for amphibians (which are beneficial predators), a place to drink and bathe for birds, and relaxing sounds for a sleepy summer afternoon.  Chickens provide eggs, possibly meat, and perform pest control duties, compost enhancement and outstanding nutrient/fertilizer yield.  The possibilities are amazing!

As you can see, we can embrace diversity in our landscapes as well as in our communities.  Just as a diverse workforce can enhance a business, a diverse design can enhance your lifestyle and boost your connection with nature.  Each element can perform multiple functions which will increase the resiliency and productivity of your environment.


Thanks for reading!  If a diverse, sustainable and productive landscape interests you contact me and I can get you started.

Monday, October 6, 2014

October Deals!

Brilliant red Blueberry foliage

Autumn is here, and so is the color.  We have had our first brush with frost, the leaves are changing and dropping.  Time marches on!

The crops are coming in and most of the chores in the yard are related to cleaning up.  New growth is rare, but still there if you look.  Our second planting of peas are still in bloom, and I am hoping to get some fresh spinach soon.

Ash Tree, the most colorful leaves have blown away

For more new Fall growth on your property, check out these special pricing offers!  The first three people to contact me will get a FREE 1-hour On-site Consultation* for your property!  Normally a $149 value!  Just mention this blog post in your message.
 *within a 30 mile radius, mileage can be worked out if outside the area.
 
Other deals this month include:
Three Bin Cedar Compost System for $449 installed, Regularly $499
 or a
4' x 8' x 6" Raised Bed $75 installed, Regularly $99
 
Take advantage of these deals to get started with a great new landscape design or even just a headstart on next years growing season!
 
Again, thanks for reading; and if you like what I'm doing like and share this page on Facebook.  I am close to 100 likes, please help me reach this milestone!
 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Purple Coneflower of the Prairie - Echinacea

The most widely used wildflower in "Native Plantings" is probably the Purple Coneflower, and for good reason.  The lavender to purple, or on rare occasions white, blooms are large and long lasting.  The flowers sit singly on each stem, of which there are plenty per plant.  The leaves are rough edged and shaped like a spear tip.  The coneflower grows 2-3, or even up to 5 feet tall.  This makes it a showy addition in the back of displays, or near the center of planting islands.
Hardy Perennial
Easy to grow, it is native to all 48 of the lower United States.  It prefers well-drained soil, but grows well in almost all soil types, and is drought tolerant.  As you would expect from a prairie wildflower it prefers full sun, but as you can see in the picture to the right it also does well in part-shade.  This is a first year plant in my home forest garden, although most plants won't bloom until the second year.  Purple Coneflowers are usually started from seed which is easily found in most garden centers, collected on your own from plants in the fall, or traded with friends in a seed exchange.  Plant these seeds, which may benefit from a 60 day cool-moist stratification, in the Spring.  You can also divide the roots in the early Spring, and it can spread aggressively on its own.
Companion Planting
Using this plant in your landscape has many benefits besides being showy and easy to grow.  It is a Native plant and as such fits perfectly in native prairie plantings.  It is a great plant to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, so is one of the key plants in our Butterfly Gardens.  It is particularly beneficial to native bees and other pollinator species, and can provide habitat to boost populations of predators of many garden and crop pests.

Medicinal Herb
Beyond the companion planting benefits, Echinacea is a powerful medicinal herb.  The flowers, and sometimes the whole plant, are dried and used to make a popular herbal tea claimed to support a healthy immune system.  The roots have been used in a similar manner, harvested in the fall after the plants have gone to seed.  Roots should come from a plant at least a couple years old to be big enough to harvest. 

Infusions can be made with water or Tinctures with alcohol, with different compounds resulting from each.  These are also widely available commercially.  The internet is full of recipes and vendors.

Here is more information from the USDA plant guide on Echinacea.
Echinacea is widely used as an herbal remedy today. A purple coneflower product containing the juice of the fresh aerial parts of Echinacea purpurea was found to make mouse cells 50-80 percent resistant to influenza, herpes, and vesicular somatitis viruses. This product was available in Germany in 1978 (Wacker and Hilbig 1978). Perhaps the most important finding so far is the discovery of immuno-stimulatory properties in Echinacea purpurea and E. angustifolia (Wagner and Proksch 1985, Wagner et al. 1985). Stimulation of the immune system appears to be strongly influenced by dose level. Recent pharmacological studies indicate that a 10-mg/kg daily dose of the polysaccharide over a ten-day period is effective as an immuno-stimulant. Increases in the daily dosage beyond this level, however, resulted in "markedly decreased pharmacological activity" (Wagner and Proksch 1985, Wagner et al. 1985). Other research has shown that the purple coneflower produces an anti-inflammatory effect and has therapeutic value in urology, gynecology, internal medicine, and dermatology (Wagner and Proksch 1985).  Emphasis added
 
For Everyone
Echinacea or Purple Coneflower should be a part of everyone's gardens or property.  With its decorative appearance, synergistic benefits and its herbal value it can be an integral part of your sustainable and resilient landscape.
 
As always, if you need help installing butterfly habitat, native plantings or any other of our services contact us at AbundantDesign@Hotmail.com

Fall is actually a perfect time to get  raised beds and soils prepped, designs started, and plants ordered for Spring.  Don't hesitate, get a head start today!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ready for Fall?

Fall is Upon Us
Seems like I just blinked and June was over, now the Autumnal Equinox has come and gone!  And if you thought the days were getting shorter before... look out!

Apples are Ready, Homemade Soda Recipes
I let one of my boys pick a Macoun apple from our backyard and as we were walking away <plop, plop...plop> several more hit the ground.  I had already picked a few Jonathon's because they each had a single wormhole :(  After a little worm eviction and trimming & slicing, they were ready for the pot.  1 cup of sugar, 1 cup apple cider vinegar and 1 cup (well, I used a whole bunch because the vinegar smelled pretty strong) apple pieces.  I brought this to a boil per the instructions for homegrown flavored waters and soda from Mother Earth News, as I am really trying to stop drinking regular soda/pop.  "What is that awful smell?!?!" I hear from upstairs.  The top of our stairway is the best place to be when something delicious is baking, but evidently not so good when you are boiling vinegar.  The finished syrup was ok, but when diluted with carbonated water from the Soda Stream, it left something to be desired.  I kept trying to like it but just couldn't get past the vinegar taste.  Maybe I just have an aversion to vinegar.  (I don't like Tobasco sauce either, with its overpowering vinegar taste, even though I love spicy food)  I've kept the syrup, and will try it again; I don't think the kids will give it another chance though.  If I do try the recipe again I will skip the vinegar or add just a few tablespoons for the acidity; or maybe just try this one instead - Pop Culture: How to Make Soda Syrups, 3 Ways.

September is International Homesteading Month
http://www.grit.com/community/homesteading-month
Leave a comment and tell how you are "celebrating."  I have plans for a Sumac tree in the foundation planting at the corner of the house.

Special Deal!
I have also acquired some used cedar siding.  It passed the 3M test for lead paint and some was used to build my nursery beds.  I can give a great deal to anyone interested in a project using these boards.  They would be perfect for raised beds or compost bins! 

 
3M Lead√Check™ swab test results photos
No Red = No Lead

QC check looks good
Enjoy this time of year as another growing season winds down and the trees put on their colorful displays. 
Have a great week!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Half-hearted Fanatic

Although not exactly a hero of mine, sad the way the more you learn about people that can happen, I do still like Edward Abbey.  His quote at the end is one of my favorites, and was in my mind today. 

I had been working through several ideas all week for this weekend's post, without settling on any one thing.  I got some business things done with the start-up; temporary business cards made and a visit with the Small Business Development Center - as well as my regular FT job.  Fought off an insidious chigger attack with lots of help from my wife's essential oils magic.  I must have picked those buggers up at a consultation I did near Winterset.  Started teaching 3&4th graders at church, and my own boys had a touch of a stomach bug.  I also made some progress on my nursery beds this weekend so I will be able to supply harder to source plants locally for clients in the future. 

And although I got that done, I did not make time for a real informative post.  Instead I took Edward Abbey's advice and took the family out to the Brenton Arboretum, where we "messed around" and "rambled out yonder".  We played for a long time on the natural playscape they have there, and got in a short walk around the "Vanishing Acts" trail.  The girls found a bright green Copes (could have been eastern) gray tree frog in the port-a-potty, which we caught and moved to less odoriferous settings by an oak tree outside.  Although I had feared it was traumatized by all the squealing, by the time we left it had already found a meal of something with very long legs!  Sadly, the camera battery was dead by then.

So I leave you with this...

One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast...a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.
Edward Abbey (1927 - 1989)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Campfire - What to do when it is all done

What wonderful weather for being outside this weekend!

Today I prepped a new bed making the area between our gate and garden spot easier to mow, dug a few potatoes, helped one of my little gardeners find herbs for mommy's homemade lasagna and chimichurri monkey bread, and planted a few bushes to allow the roots to get going before winter.  I also picked and ate a Macoun apple from my favorite tree.  It wasn't quite ripe (think Atomic Warhead sour) but the anticipation for an apple from the yard got the better of me.  It was still delicious, Ha!

Last night we spent the evening around our fire pit.  The warmth was perfect with the foreshadowing chill in the air.  Stars were twinkling, the moon was overhead.  The drifting wood smoke conjured memories of bonfires past, as well as kept the mosquitos at bay.  A few marshmallows were toasted before we let the glowing embers fade.

Now, what to do with the leftover coals and ash...

You could always just leave them for next time, or until one of the little ones reenacts scenes from old war movies where commandos blacken their faces for a night mission, or the rain turns it into a drain hole clogging slurry.  You could also just give it a toss in the yard, trash or elsewhere but what a waste of valuable resources.

Wood Ash
The white wood ash is a good source of potassium for your plants.  It can also be used to make lye soap when mixed with fats.  If you've ever had cleanup duty while camping you might have put some woods ashes into your bacon grease to scrub the worst dirt off the dishes.  Well, this lye is basic, meaning it will raise the pH of your soil, and if not used in moderation it can spell trouble for your garden.  Blueberries, strawberries, roses, azaleas and other acid loving plants are very sensitive to raises in soil pH.  I mentioned I planted a few bushes earlier, they were Goji Berry (Chinese Wolf Berry) bushes I grew from seed this Spring.  I put these in an area where the Sunflowers have just past their prime.  Both of these species, as well as asparagus, cherry and plum, don't mind or even prefer a higher pH soil, so that's where the wood ashes went, along with a little biochar.

Biochar
What is biochar?  Biochar is similar to charcoal except it is purposely made for agricultural purposes.  Although the leftover coals from our fire were not made for "biochar" I will call it that since that is how I'll use it now.  These dark coal like pieces are full of cracks and pores that can hold nutrients and provide places for microorganisms to live.  This helps to reduce fertility inputs and increase soil life.  Another benefit of biochar is that it holds carbon for a long, long time (100s to 1000s of years) which is why it is often touted as a way to reduce greenhouses gases and global warming. 

While applying to my garden areas, I like to separate the coals from the ash.  That way I can add some biochar to all of my beds and reserve the white ash for my plants that can appreciate the higher pH.
 

If you would like an herb spiral, apple tree or guild or edible & sustainable landscaping project at your home contact me at abundantdesign@hotmail.com and we can get together to talk about a plan.

Thanks for stopping by & have a great weekend!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Lemongrass - A Tropical Herb in a Midwest Garden

This weeks post brings a visitor from the tropics - Lemongrass
There are many uses for Lemongrass from insect spray to teas.  In the following video I will tell all about how to grow it here in Iowa, what it has been used for medicinally, and how to make a tasty lemon tasting herbal tea.
I hope you enjoy the video as much as I did making it.
Leave me a comment and let me know what you thought, or give me some ideas for future topics that you would be interested in learning more about!



By the way, here is the link to the Lemongrass-Cholesterol study
http://www.researchgate.net/publication/20570442_Impact_of_lemongrass_oil_an_essential_oil_on_serum_cholesterol

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Plantain - Underappreciated Plants & "Weeds"

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
 
Sadly, many plants get labeled as weeds regardless of where they grow; especially in our population that loves a manicured lawn or crop field.

According to Merriam-Webster.com the definition of a weed is:  a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth; especially :  one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants

So, the location of growth is a true factor in the label of weed.

Today our focus is on Plantain (or Plantago Major, not the starchy banana you see at the supermarket).  At one time I would pull this from my lawn or spray it with some toxic blend of  2,4-D, mecoprop or dicamba.  Times have changed, and with a little knowledge, I have come to LOVE this diminutive perennial plant and all it can do!

Watch this video where I tell you all about it!  Leave me a comment, it'll make my day!
 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Turning Compost to Speed Up the Process and Avoid Problems

This week the focus is back on compost!

Composting your plant based kitchen scraps and yard waste is a great way to reduce your contribution to our landfills.  Compost builds soil structure and organic matter that will help it retain water and feed the organisms that are part of healthy soils.  Healthy soils mean healthy plants, whether they are vegetables, trees or grass. 

In this video I will show you the order I flip my bins, the stages of decomposition, hints, and how to avoid problems.  Remember to mix your materials well, as demonstrated, and keep it moist, not wet, for the best results.
Now is the time to be building your pile up so they have enough mass to carry on the process in the middle through the winter.  If you would like a composting system, raised beds or a forest garden for your home, contact me and we can get you started!
 
It looks better if you click the link to watch directly on YouTube.  I will try to fix this better next time.  Leave a comment or ask any questions below!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Pesticide Free Japanese Beetle Defense


Looking for a mate or a meal in the corn patch
They're Here...
As I walked through my yard tonight I found them. 
I had heard others talking about them, but had only seen one or two so far this year.  Now they are in my backyard.  Two years ago I had tons of them and they did quite a number on my apple trees,
and seriously denuded our cherry.  Last year I
was pretty vigilant, but they didn't seem as bad.  Only time will tell for this year...


Japanese Beetle on a Peach Tree Leaf








 
What are they?
Japanese Beetles are an iridescent copper and green colored beetle, about 1/2" long.  They would be quite beautiful if they weren't quite so destructive.  They eat the leaves of your plants, leaving the skeletonized veins behind.  This kills the leaf and hinders its ability to perform photosynthesis (using the sun's energy to make sugar, energy for the plant).

Controlling Them
Adult beetles are difficult to control.  There are certain nematodes and bacterial products that over time can control the larvae in your yard.  The problem is the ones eating your plants may not be from your yard.  The Japanese Beetle has an acute sense of smell and can be attracted from long distances in its search for a mate.  There are also traps that use these pheromones to attract and trap them.  I have not tried these because I don't want to attract any more than I already have, and from what I've read that is what they do. 


Fresh tonight, not stinky yet
What works best for me is to add some dishsoap and water to an ice cream bucket.  The bucket is large enough to catch them in, and the soapy water coats them with a film that they cannot breathe through.  The beetles are poor flyers and usually drop from the leaves when disturbed.  I take the bucket, hold it under a leaf or group of leaves with the biggest collection of beetles, and give it a shake.  The stubborn ones may need a finger flick to be convinced to take a swim.  Be careful not to shake the branch too much or the others on the tree/plant may fly away before you get them.  This seems to be a good way to catch large bunches of them. 

But here's where it gets sort of gross.  I figured since they are so attracted to the smell of living ones, would they be repelled from the smell of dead and rotting ones?  The idea may have come to me because I once left a bucket for a few days in the garden with dead ones in it.  Leaving the stinky bucket near plants that are the Japanese Beetles' favorites has seemed to keep them away!  I have also tried to protect several trees, by dipping some of the mass of dead beetles out of the bucket and around the base of the trees I want to protect.

Maybe it should be higher?



Integrated Pest Management
I also put up a wren house this year that I built out of some scrap lumber.    Plans can be found many places on the internet.  I modified these to be able to use what I had for leftover wood.  I have heard of these little songbirds being quite fond of the pesky beetles.  Unfortunately, we didn't get any to nest in it this year, maybe next year.







More Tips
Also if you are planning new landscape plantings here is a list of plants the are favorite foods and not so favorite foods of our pretty little pests.
Courtesy of http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews/2010/7-14/japanesebeetle.html 
Least Favored By Japanese BeetlesMost Favored by Japanese beetles
Arbovitae
Boxelder
Boxwood
Clematis
Dogwood*
Euonymus sp. (burning bush, etc.)
Forsythia
Hemlock
Hickory
Holly
Juniper
Lilac
Magnolia
Mulberry
Northern red oak
Pine**
Red and silver maples
Redbud
Spruce***
Sweet gum
Tulip poplar (tuliptree)
Yew           
American and English elm
Birch
Black walnut
Elm
Grape
Hawthorn
Hollyhock
Horse-chestnut
Japanese* and Norway maple
Larch
Linden
London planetree
Malus spp. (crabapple, apple etc.)
Mountain ash*
Pin oak*
Prunus spp. (flowering cherry, etc.)
Pussy willow
Rose
Raspberry
Virginia creeper
Willow
  * May not be hardy or perform well throughout Iowa.
** Scots and Austrian Pine are not recommended because of disease problems.
*** We do not recommend blue spruce because of disease problems
 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Speed up the composting process

Sorry for the delay for this weekend's update.  More coming soon...
 
For now, here's a brief video how to speed up the decomposition process from my friend Matthew's YouTube Channel.

Friday, July 25, 2014

How to Build a 3-bin Compost System

Improve your soil structure and increase the biodiversity of your soil by making compost.  This week's post includes a video how you can make your own composter.

Use these bins to discard your fruit & vegetable scraps, egg shells and yard waste and keep it from taking up space at the landfill.  Turn the pile often for good aeration and mixing to speed up the process.  Composted organic matter helps your yard and garden soil remain loose and workable.  Earthworms are drawn to it and leave behind castings that are a valuable fertilizer prized by organic growers.

There are many ways to compost your organic waste from just a pile or wire bin to a barrel system with trapdoors and rollers; but these nice looking cedar bins will look great and fit well in any neighborhood backyard.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Rain Barrels are great, but...

 
"...they're not growing their own food. Like the 55 gallon rain barrel, they deceive themselves by thinking that by toying with inadequately designed rainwater collection systems...
 
Thirty five thousand gallons of rain falls off my roof but I want to hold fast to the cute idea that a little 55 gallon barrel will hold it all and I can feel like I've saved the world. That’s simply poor design and living through your concepts rather than your observations." 
 
 
 
While not all of us can have a 100+ acre Permaculture farm that utilizes the landscape to harvest rain water, we can gain some insight from Mark's comments.  When you consider the amount of rain we typically get in central Iowa and the surface area of our roofs, you realize that we cannot hope to contain it all in one, or even several, 55 or 75 gallon rain barrels (see calculator).  Ideally you would have several modified 275gal. Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs) which can be an eyesore if not properly disguised and take up a large footprint.
 
What we can do to bridge the gap in our urban/suburban rain water harvesting systems is to utilize the rain barrel as storage for use in our potted plants, etc. that we want to benefit from using rain water over the municipal water supply. More importantly, though, we want to manage the overflow so we can use the rain to maintain soil moisture for longer periods of time. 
 
There are several ways we can Divert, Disperse & Conserve the overflow to our planting areas:
  • This picture below is of my prototype rain catchment system.  It utilizes a smaller barrel and simple overflow into 4" drainage tile (8' solid to get away from the foundation, then 16' perforated to allow the overflow to slowly drain into our mini-forest garden. 
 
  • This next system utilizes a more intricate overflow irrigation system.  The overflow drained into a series of PVC pipes that were set-up with multiple junctions, runs and 1/4" drainage holes that allowed the overflow to go to targeted areas of the planting.  The tricky part was running a split under the walking path and back up into the "island".  Make sure your system completely drains all water so the lines will not freeze and burst in winter.

Before hiding the barrel behind a trellis

Dividing the overflow to multiple areas

The lower levels prior to covering PVC with straw 
  •  Another way to enhance water retention is through mulching.  Mulching keeps direct sunlight from heating and drying the soil.  It also holds a layer of moist air that won't blow away in drying breezes and steal moisture away. 
  • "Swales on Contour" will also slow runoff and allow it to sink into the soil.  Typically swales in modern construction flow with the slope of the land to route rainfall quickly to drainage ditches, rivers and streams.  Two days after a rain suburban homeowners are out with the sprinklers trying to keep the grass green.  With swales on contour, the "ditch" runs across the slope where the runoff slows, giving it time to percolate into the soil.
I hope this post gives you ideas for ways you can go beyond the rain barrel.  If you have any questions feel free to post in the comments section below.  Or if you would like to have a rain catchment system installed at your home send me an email!

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog,
Jeff