Saturday, August 1, 2009

Water Wise Garden Award

This year Leah and I decided to enter our garden in the Flagstaff Garden Competition. There were two main categories: Native Plant and Water Wise Garden. Having not irrigated our garden with fresh city water since 2007, we felt like we had something to offer. I guess the judges did as well since we won the Water Wise Garden Award this year!

This past Sunday we had a garden open house with over 100 people stopping in throughout the afternoon to check out our abundant edible oasis and to see our rainwater and greywater harvesting systems in use.

I think most people that come to a "water-wise" garden in the southwestern US assume that it is covered in gravel and just uses cactus and other dry loving plants. The Xeriscape notion is often associated with "Zero-scape" as the gravel covered moonscape demonstrates. What we have done in our gardens is the opposite. Rather than intentionally creating hot and dry micro-climates, we have naturally created moist and cooler ones. Through simple strategies we are able to harvest much of the 140,000 gallons of precipitation a year in addition to about 900 gallons a month of household greywater. Who needs a municipal or well water supplied landscape when we already have an abundance of free and ecologically sourced supplies ready for the using!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Winged Blessings of Summer Flowers

Mid summer is here in Flagstaff with or with out the monsoon rains. Walking through the garden yesterday, I couldn't help but notice the abundance of flowering plants. I began counting and ended up with close to 35 different flowering species of plant in our 1/4 acre oasis. Many of these make wonderful additions to salads and are a huge boon for native pollinators.

It is amazing to stop and just listen and watch the flurry of insect activity flocking to each bloom. Birds as well swarm to our yard in search of food. While many of our neighbors put out bird feeders, many of which are filled with potentially invasive weeds, we plant our feeders. Cut-leaf coneflower, for instance is our gold finch feeder. Penstemons and many tubular mint flowering plants like agastache are our hummingbird feeders. With each year, I watch and learn what birds seem to prefer what flowers.

I love the addition of wild birds to the garden. Sure they are great to watch, but I also appreciate what they do for my garden. In return for providing them a little habitat our gardens recieve free pest control. If one insect such as grasshoppers get out of control we seem to have a population of birds that work to eat them thereby keeping things under control. In addition to pest control these birds also bring with them fertilizer in the form of their manure, which they kindly spread around the very plants that they are attracted to minimizing my need to bring in any soil suppliments. Free pest control and fertilizer how can I afford not to welcome these winged blessings.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Winter Gardening

I find something satisfactory about receiving 2 feet of snow yesterday and then entering our new greenhouse today only to find all our plants thriving. Outside the temperature was hovering around 29 degrees, but inside the greenhouse this afternoon the temperature was over 70 degrees. This is the first year with our greenhouse in operation. We have been outfitting it to grow an abundance of edible food and remain above freezing without additional heat all during the winter.

To grow food we have a couple of planters that we filled with cold hardy crops. So far we have been eating radishes, salad greens, chard, mountain spinach, broccoli raab, and a few herbs like mint and cilantro. To keep things going we have been starting a bunch of new seeds of kale, lettuce, arugala, mtn. spinach, and more fresh cooking herbs. Soon we will begin starts for the ourdoor garden.

Without extra heat we have been choosing crops that can handle the cooler night time temperatures. But to moderate the extreme cold of the night we have added a few extra features into the greenhouse. First off, the greenhouse is insulated on the east, west, and north sides to buffer the cold and keep the warmth in. In addition to the insulation we have added a lot of thermal mass. The walls have a thick layer of adobe mud over the insulation to heat up during the day and radiate the heat back at night. Along with the adobe walls we have added a lot of water storage: (2) 40 gallon barrels and (4) 20 gallon plastic totes. Together this worked well to passively heat our greenhouse at night, but we found we could still improve upon it.

During the day the temperatures were heating up to over a 100 degrees on a sunny day. So we added a cheap bathroom vent fan connected to a cheap thermostat. Now when the temperature gets over 65 degrees we suck the hot air from the top of the greenhouse through some coils in the 40 gallon water barrels. This acts to both cool the inside temperature and store the heat in the water to be released at night. With the vent system, I have found that the water barrels can heat up to 60-70 degrees on sunny day even when the outside temperature is close to freezing.