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, June 28, 2015

Borage: Starflower of Courage

June is flying by and this year is about half over!

I hope your summer is off to a great start, with good things to eat, gardens growing well and enjoying the great weather we've had (in between storms and flooding!)

We've raised at least four families of birds in our yard this year between the robins, wrens, doves and (bluebird box) sparrows.

This week I have another video for you.  It's been a while since I've done one, and although they are a lot of fun they do take some time.

This week's video is on Borage, also known as Starflower for its five pointed flowers.

It is a great annual that readily self seeds and has vivid blue flowers.  Borage originated in the Mediterranean and has naturalized in many other places. It is one of the few plants with blue flowers that are edible.  Each part of the plant has a somewhat different flavor. 

Besides the things I mention in the video, Borage has been used in herbal medicine.  For more on its uses, benefits and side effects visit WebMD, or other reputable websites.

We've also had many, many Red Admiral butterflies visit our coneflowers and more this week.  A Fritillary and possibly a dark phase Tiger Swallowtail or Mourning Cloak flew by before I got a very good look.  I have only seen one Monarch though, in spite of the fact I have seen lots of wild milkweed in the area.  I hope you are seeing more!

Have a great week and a wonderful Independence Day!  If you're in Waukee, head to the parade and I'll see you there!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Fathers Day!

Happy Father's Day to you Mr. Robin Redbreast!

... and Happy Father's Day to all of the dads out there!  I hope you get to enjoy your day, maybe with some fun family time and relaxation.
Happy Father's Day, Dad!

It's also the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, and the first day of Summer.  Now it's really going to start getting hot!  Although the humidity and sunshine yesterday, while I put in this "patio" for recycling and garbage bins, sure felt like Summer! Pfew!

Plants are really growing now, and the corn is going to appreciate the growing degree days.  Here are some highlights from our backyard and gardens.

 Hoverflies loving the feverfew, purple cone flowers and blue flax

Squash in bloom
Onion flowers with beans and corn behind

 Have a great week!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Designs & Downspouts

Here's a brief update of what's been going on this past week at Abundant Design.

I delivered a consultation sketch and the client loved it!  We'll start the wildflower area soon, and the vegetable garden terraces next Spring.  I also did a consultation/estimate for a
friend/scientist/teacher/pastor.  This guy wears a lot of hats and wears them well!

This weekend I also finished up a design for a home in the Easter Lake area.  The design is a typical foundation planting but with fruits and berries incorporated, along with native prairie grass, wildflowers and herbs.

Today some Rudbekia and Shasta Daisy starts were transplanted into bigger containers, and I found a few spots in the yard to add a couple that didn't fit.  The bees and butterflies will appreciate more of these. 
The rain showers were a nice refreshing drink for them as I was finishing up. 

That's where the next part begins...

One thing about our driveway (where I was working) is a little depression that actually goes under the corner of the driveway.  It is an occasional home to wayward toads, and I've typically tossed rocks from the yard here so I don't hit them with the mower.

In this corner of the house is also a downspout, that I've often thought of routing under a path or walkway (someday) and into a rain garden.  This area is often wet and soggy for a while after a rain and if I could get a raised path or divert the water it would be a cleaner trip to the backyard.  Add a rain barrel for good measure and the flowers up front would have nitrogen rich rain water during dry spells.
This Spring I also became concerned about the slope of the ground towards our house and a low rise just outside of the splash block keeping water in.  The hole under the driveway was starting to concern me, too, especially since a house on the next street up has a sunken driveway that is going to need some serious work to repair.
As the rain came pretty hard for a while today, I watched the flow from the spout.  Sure enough, what I was afraid was happening was happening...  
Water flowing back under the splash block into that hole.

Luckily I had a spade just inside the garage door.  I grabbed it and within a minute I had a good trench for the water to run away from the driveway and house foundation.

Now that rain garden may happen sooner than later, maybe even the path.

There are some excellent resources at Rainscaping Iowa, like the Design and Installation Manual,
...but mine may end up more like one of these from Ecologia Design.

The City of Waukee also has a reimbursement program if you qualify.  Check with your local government to see if they also have an incentive program.  If you want help designing or installing a rain garden, contact me and we can get you started!

Until next week, take care!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Refreshing an Overgrown Backyard

Early edition this week, Happy Friday!  I've given a couple previews but here's the complete project summary.
This latest project finished was a
backyard hideaway in the Beaverdale neighborhood of Des Moines.  The former owner was a Master Gardener with a huge collection of perennial shrubs, flowers and ground covers.  The backyard was set up as a secluded woodland with a very small meandering yard.  The new owner was overwhelmed by the number and diversity of plants, where to start and fears of potential maintenance.

It started as a smaller job incorporating a vegetable garden, refreshing mulch in a few areas, and removing an outcropping that really broke up the yard.

The garden site was selected where it could get the most sunlight throughout the day.  A couple layouts were discussed, and the more organic beds were chosen over rectangular beds.  Materials were discussed and recycled bricks were chosen for economics, aesthetics and environmental impact.

Several hostas, lilies and rhubarb plants were saved and
moved to preferable locations.

The remaining plants and weeds were removed and
the roots were disturbed to hinder future regrowth.
Cardboard Sheet Mulch with Beds Marked
The vegetable garden was then "sheet mulched" and the layout was outlined with marking paint. Sheet mulching is the process of laying down biodegradable materials, such as layers of cardboard or newsprint, that will last long enough to kill or hinder weeds and grass from regrowing in new planting areas.  As new plants grow, and have access to sunlight, they can punch through the decomposing cardboard/newsprint/etc. while the covered weeds are starved and die.  The sheet mulch decomposes, feeding the soil biology, and avoids problems associated with landscape fabric.

A soil and compost blend was brought in overtop, and contained by a brick border.  The pathways were covered with wood chip mulch.
Vegetable Beds

Soil Solarization
The remaining plants in the outcropping were also removed and the area was covered in plastic to solarize the soil. Unfortunately this didn't work since we didn't have many really sunny days; and it was probably too early in the Spring for the sun to be high enough in the sky.  Regrowth was rapid in our unintended greenhouse.  Another round of weed removal, and this area was also sheet mulched, with a couple yards of soil and compost added on top. This area was seeded with a shady grass blend.
Cleared, with fresh soil and seed
While the new lawn area was incubating under the plastic, the new mulched areas really stood out.  The homeowner decided to mulch all of the perennial gardens and the front flower beds.

Fresh mulch on front and foundation plantings

The compost bins have a stone stepper path to them now and a corner of the yard is ready for relaxing.

The grass is coming in nicely now, flowers are blooming and the vegetables are in. 
The corner is ready for the hammock, to relax in and enjoy the refreshed backyard!
If you like any of the elements is this backyard, or need a landscaping refresh of your own or have something completely different in mind contact Abundant Design for a consultation and estimate.
Have a great weekend and happy growing!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Planning for the Emerald Ash Borer

The Emerald Ash Borer is here!

The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is an exotic pest originating from Asia.  This insect is not problematic there, where insect disease, natural predators and ash tree resistance keep populations and damage down.  When they arrived in Michigan in 2002, probably in a wooden crate, pallet or shipping container, they found none of these obstacles and began rapidly spreading across the Midwest.

Front ash tree last October
Our two most mature trees on our lot are ash, like so many in the landscapes surrounding metro areas of the Midwest.  Ash and maples.  When diversity is low, pests and diseases can spread very quickly.  Its very easy to find a preferred food source when you have nearly a 50/50 chance that the next tree is it.  Plus, without the natural control systems in place, exotic pests can wreak havoc on the landscape.

The ash borer kills a tree from the feeding of the larvae.  They feed on the soft living tissue between the bark and the wood, creating an "S" or zig-zag shaped path.  These feeding channels disrupt the flow of water and nutrients up and down the tree.  Generally the top of a tree is killed first and the borers move down the trunk.  After pupating, adults emerge through a distinctive D-shaped hole.

There are chemical treatment options through trunk or soil injections, soil drenches or trunk sprays.  These insecticides are generally systemic, meaning they are transferred to the entire tree including every tissue.  This makes for a highly defended tree but can also have some unwanted side effects.  Beneficial insects such as lacewings, ladybugs and parasitic wasps can be killed by preying on poisoned insects.  Flowers near treated ash trees can incorporate insecticides from the soil harming honeybees and other pollinators, and treated ash tree pollen can drift also harming them if exposed.  Since the EAB can only fly a short distance, the Iowa DNR suggests not treating trees unless you are within 15 miles of an infestation.

Well, you and I are most likely in one of these areas.  If not now, you soon will be.  I did notice a few holes in one of our ash trunks, but it did not look like an EAB hole and I have noticed no other symptoms.  So this is my plan for our trees and yard.  I am not an advocate for chemical treatment.  There are some situations where I admit they are probably a good idea, but we really try to limit them especially in our home and yard.  We also have many plants we provide for pollinators and need pollinators for.  In additon, with treatments costing $20-$200 per year, it is not an expense we are willing to make for the lifetime of the trees.  You will have to decide the value of your trees and the cost of saving them.

I am also not going to proactively cut them down.  This was done with the American Chestnut in the early 1900's to fight the Chestnut Blight  (another exotic disease) and hope for native genetic resistance was lost with each tree cut down.  I highly doubt the two trees we have will have resistance, but if I cut them down now, it would be like throwing away a lottery ticket before the drawing.  When they get sick I will remove them.  They should make pretty good mushroom growing logs!  If they don't get sick, the genetics will be a valuable breeding resource for resistant ash trees in the future.

In the most likely case they will die, so I am planning and planting their replacements.  As the saying goes, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now."  And we are getting late in the spring for tree planting, especially bare root trees, but I think we do have a little time yet for good healthy transplanting yet.  Temperatures aren't too warm and we're getting adequate rainfall.  I can get really nice oak seedlings nearby, that will be one of the replacements.  I also over wintered a couple walnuts in my small nursery bed.  One was growing quite well so I transplanted it tonight.

In the ground at its new address
Several layers of newspaper to prevent weeds
Watered in and Mulched
So, there's my Emerald Ash Borer contingency plan.  Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.  Hopefully the new trees, although slower growing, will have some decent growth by the time the old ash trees need to come down.  If not, the increased sunlight won't be a bad thing for the new trees either.

I hope this has helped you think through your plans, if you have one (or some) of the
60+ million ash trees in Iowa.  If you would like more information about the Emerald Ash Borer, see the ISU Extension & Outreach website or one of their seminars.  Also more information is available at Iowa Tree Pests by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Big shoes to fill  ...at least it looks like it at this point!