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For the birds, you’ll need a different mindset when planning your gardens. For starters, the only birds you will be attempting to attract will be those native to your area. That means landscaping with plants that are native to your area too. Each bird specie has unique requirements for food and shelter. Natural sources of food and shelter can only be found with plants and habitat that meet your bird’s requirements for their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. This also applies to many other species whose habitat is disappearing, like the Monarch Butterfly. I’m very fortunate to live in a rural area yet close to a wonderful city, Columbia, Missouri, where everything around me on my little 42 acres is mostly all native and natural. It’s a furry, chirpy, soft, warm, fuzzy feeling to observe the nature around me knowing that I have provided home and habitat for them.

While native habitat for the birds and bees, butterflies and their friends is and has been fast disappearing for many years now, it doesn’t have to be that way. We all live in homes. Most of our homes have some sort of landscaping. With just a little thought and planning we can invite our nature neighbors back into their habitat which we disrupted and enjoy their wonderful company.
It’s not that difficult. Simply do a little research to learn which species are native to your area and then ‘set the table for them’—be a good host by providing them habitat; the food, water and shelter that they need.

For starters a bird feeder in winter is a good first bird-hop for your birds to see your property as having potential interest for them. While they entertain you during those otherwise dreary winter months, you provide them essential food/sustenance to survive that winter. And while the feeder may be more for our own entertainment and sense of benevolence than anything else, they do attract many of our feathered friends to our neighborhood. Some of those attracted may be more desirable than others. My opinion is that the noisy aggressive ones are less a problem if feeders are used only in winter in cold to moderate climates and not at all in warm climates.

The very best plan is to plant a garden that will produce seeds, berries and fruit where nature can provide for them year-round. The Audubon Society can help with specific suggestions.

Native trees and shrubs are important because they host native insects while providing safety from prediters. We (at least most of us) think insects need to be eradicated. We spend billions of dollars on insecticides to accomplish that.We also “import” plants not native to our areas. Why? Is it an attempt to bring some sort of dream-world image where it isn’t? It just doesn’t have to be that way. In fact—it shouldn’t be that way! Those natural insects and plants are a vital part of nature’s delicate balance and a very important food source for our birds. They have evolved over eons for a reason!
While ‘pest management’ for gardeners is a long and complicated subject—some of those ‘pests’ become Monarch Butterflies. I would venture to guess that they all have a purpose and a place if only we knew what it was. Don’t we all wish we knew what ours is!

Nest boxes are one of the easiest things to do. I’ve put several boxes out for Bluebirds with great success. It is quite amusing to observe that while they pair and mate—they also ‘cheat’ on each other when their mate’s away.
Build or buy your nest boxes for the birds—not for how ‘cute’ you may think the nest box is. It’s the BIRDS who are going to choose their nest-home—not you. You’ll know if you’ve done a good job if your birds actually select you box for their home.
OK, here are some very important considerations. Just as in Real Estate: location, location, location is very important.You will need to research the type of nest box and location for each bird specie you’re trying to host. If you don’t get it right, no-one will come, at least not the guest you were hoping for.

Birdbaths really are for bathing. Birds really do bathe frequently and it’s essential for them and their health. It helps them to stay warm in winter and cool in summer.
Birdbaths can be an elegant feature of any garden. Like a feeder, it can provide pleasant observation for many hours of blissful reverie.
Heated pools are very important for cold climates. They provide drinking and bathing water while preventing destruction from freezing. They are a good partner for feeders.

Your backyard doesn’t have to be sterile for either you or the birds. Bring it to life! Put in plants. Install birdhouses and feeders. Enjoy life—yours and the birds in your backyard.


Photo: Robin Bachtler Cushman

Photo: Robin Bachtler Cushman

The vegetable garden is just one aspect of your total landscape plan.

Many people, me included, think of vegetable produce when you say garden. But that’s not really true for most of us. Our lifestyles place us in urban or suburban settings more often than not where aesthetics, appearance, ambiance, are just as if not more important than any other aspect of planning your garden. Just like architectural design for the home itself. We live there. We eat, sleep and entertain there. We  not only live inside our homes but our lifestyles take us outside our home into our landscape as well. So we want it to look good and be good while serving the way we want to live.

So here are a few things for you to consider as you begin to think about just how you and your family will use and enjoy the space around your home—you know, things like:

  • Outdoor living and entertainment—barbecuing, etc.,
  • Children’s playground—swings, slides, etc.,
  • Swimming pool,
  • Zen garden for meditation,
  • Water features like a pond, waterfall, etc.,
  • Habitat for birds and wildlife,
  • Flowers and herbs for mind, eye, kitchen and nose,
  • Flowers for bees, color and conversation,
  • Shrubs and hedges for privacy and/or outdoor space definition,
  • Edible perennials such as apples, peaches, pears, berries, nuts, asparagus, rhubarb, etc.. These can all be a part of your permanent landscape,
  • Annual and seasonal vegetables for your table,
  • Culinary herbs  for your kitchen,
  • If you can think of more, let me know.

A total landscape plan will typically be made of of several gardens. For example: you may have an “entry garden” forming an artistic and appealing approach to your front home entry. Other gardens might address topographic features such as embankments, large trees, rocks, etc. While still others will enhance special use spaces for privacy screening, recreation and outdoor living.

Since you want your food garden to fit within a greater overall view and use of your property, it must look right and be right to meet your specific purposes and the needs of the particular plants you intend to grow.

Some of your food plants may be perennials like fruit trees, nut trees, berry canes, rhubarb or asparagus. These plants are best suited for permanent parts of your landscape and don’t need to use up space in your vegetable growing areas.

A website I really like (and I don’t know her personally or receive any remuneration from her) is: edible-landscape-design.com. Here’s another pretty good website. http://www.the-landscape-design-site.com/gardenstyles/

Your total landscape design will be unique because of your own very unique lifestyles, dreams, wants, needs, desires and your topographical, geographical and climate zone considerations.

I prefer to keep things as close to native as possible. For one thing, it looks out of place to see a palm tree in a northern clime. But the most important reason is sustainability. Plants native to your growing area have adapted to your local conditions and will naturally be happier and healthier.

Edible landscapes are growing increasingly popular as people become more interested in utilizing and caring for their environment while experiencing a superior lifestyle quality. Both attractiveness and bountiful food production can result from an edible landscape with a little thoughtful planning.

Think about perennials, annuals and seasonals in your edible landscape.  Your perennials would normally be planted as backdrops or hedges because they’re more permanent and generally grow to taller heights. They could also represent island or highlight features or collages drawing attention to a topography, stone outcropping, building, wall or tree such as a tall-growing nut tree.

Asparagus comes to mind as a backdrop or screen although you will want to plan for access to it for early spring harvesting. Other edgings and permanent edibles such as blackberries, raspberries, grapes and tall-growing cane or vining plants will need to be situated for easy access during harvest while blending appropriately with the overall garden design theme. Situate your fruit or nut trees in open spaces for both planned shade and attractive appearance.

While some herbs such as rosemary, can be grown as a hedge in some climates, I prefer to grow mine in pots on my back patio for handy access to the kitchen.

The next article will talk about planning your vegetable garden. If you want to get a jump on that topic here’s an excellent training video series that I like a lot.<a href=”http://72a2d-fo33984t77kguj1m3qfi.hop.clickbank.net/?tid=WFG” target=”_top”>Click Here!</a>

Until next time,

Happy Gardening 🙂

The Soil Food Web

As more and more compost is produced and utilized and as the body of end-use related research grows, the benefits of using compost have become more evident and measurable. Because of its many  attributes, compost is extremely versatile and beneficial in virtually all soil enrichment  applications. Compost has the unique ability to improve the properties of soils and growing media physically (structurally), chemically (nutritionally), and biologically. Although many equate the benefit of compost use to lush green growth, caused by the plant-available nitrogen, the real benefits of using compost are long-term and related to its content of living-organic matter. This has been observed and known for thousands of years.

Physical Benefits
Improved Soil Structure
Compost can greatly enhance the physical structure of soil. In fine-textured (clay, clay loam) soils, the addition of compost will reduce bulk density, improve friability (workability) and porosity, and increase its gas and water permeability, while reducing erosion.
When used in sufficient quantities, the addition of compost has both an immediate and long-term positive impact on soil structure. It resists compaction in fine-textured (clay) soils and increases water-holding capacity and improves soil aggregation in coarse-textured (sandy) soils. The soil-binding properties of compost are due to its humus content. Humus is a stable residue resulting from a high degree of organic matter decomposition. The constituents of the humus act as soil ‘glue,’ holding soil particles together, making them more resistant to erosion and improving the soil’s ability to hold moisture.
Moisture Management
Adding compost  to your soil provides greater drought resistance and more efficient water utilization; therefore, the frequency and intensity of irrigation can be reduced. Recent research also suggests that the addition of compost in sandy soils can facilitate moisture dispersion by allowing water to more readily move laterally from its point of application.
Chemical Benefits
Modifies and Stabilizes pH
Adding compost to soil may modify the pH of the final mix. Depending on the pH of the compost and of the native soil, adding compost  may raise or lower the pH of the soil/compost blend. T

The Soil Food Web

he addition of a neutral to slightly alkaline compost to an acidic soil will increase soil pH if added in appropriate quantities. In specific conditions, compost has been found to affect soil pH even when applied at quantities as low as 10-20 tons per acre, (about a pound per square foot). The incorporation of compost also has the ability to buffer or stabilize soil pH, making it more resistant to pH change.
Increases Cation Exchange Capacity
Compost will also improve the cation exchange capacity of soils, enabling them to retain nutrients longer. It will also allow crops to more effectively utilize nutrients, while reducing nutrient loss by leaching. For this reason, the fertility of soils is often tied to their organic matter content. Improving the cation exchange capacity of sandy soils by adding compost can greatly improve the retention of plant nutrients in the root zone.
Provides Nutrients
Compost products contain a considerable variety of macro and micronutrients. Although often seen as a good source of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, compost also contains micro-nutrients essential for plant growth. Since compost contains relatively stable sources of organic matter, these nutrients are supplied in a slow-release form. On a pound-by-pound basis, large quantities of nutrients are not typically found in compost in comparison to most commercial fertilizers. However, compost is usually applied at much greater rates; therefore, it can have a significant cumulative effect on nutrient availability. The addition of compost can affect both fertilizer and pH adjustment (lime/sulfur addition). Compost not only provides some nutrition, but often makes fertilizer programs more effective.
Biological Benefits
Compost provides Soil Life beneficial to plants. The activity of this Soil Life is supported by the presence of organic matter. Soil microorganisms include bacteria, protozoa, actinomycetes, and fungi. They are not only found within compost, but proliferate within soil media. Microorganisms play an important role in organic matter decomposition which, in turn, leads to humus formation and nutrient availability to plant life. Microorganisms can also promote root activity as specific fungi work symbiotically with plant roots, assisting them in the extraction of nutrients from soils. Sufficient levels of organic matter also encourage the growth of earthworms, which through tunneling, increase water infiltration and aeration.
Suppresses Plant Diseases
Plant disease may be influenced by the level and type of organic matter and microorganisms present in soils. Research shows that increased population of certain microorganisms may suppress specific plant diseases such as pythium and fusarium as well as nematodes. Efforts are being made to optimize the composting process in order to increase the population of these beneficial microbes.
Additional Benefits of Compost
Some additional benefits of compost have been identified, and have led to new uses for it. These benefits and uses are described below.
Binds Contaminants
Compost has the ability to bind heavy metals and other contaminants, reducing both their leach-ability and absorption by plants. Therefore, sites contaminated with various pollutants may often be improved by amending the native soil with compost. The same binding affect allows compost to be used as a filter media for storm water treatment and has been shown to minimize leaching of pesticides in soil systems.
Degrades Compounds
The microbes found in compost are also able to degrade some toxic organic compounds, including petroleum (hydrocarbons). This is one of the reasons why compost is being used in bioremediation of petroleum contaminated soils.
Wetland Restoration
Compost has also been used for the restoration of wetlands. Rich in organic matter and microbial population, compost and soil/compost blends can closely simulate the characteristics of wetland soils, thereby encouraging the re-establishment of native plant species.
Erosion Control
Coarser composts have been used with great success as mulch for erosion control and have been used successfully on sites where conventional erosion control methods have not performed well. In Europe, fine compost has been mixed with water and sprayed onto slopes to control erosion.
Weed Control
Immature composts or ones which possess substances detrimental to plant growth (phytotoxins) are also known to be an effective weed deterrent for vegetable and fruit production. While aiding in moisture conservation and moderating soil temperatures, immature composts also act as mild and natural herbicides.
Benefits of Using Compost
• Improves the soil structure, porosity, and density, thus creating a better plant root environment,
• Increases moisture infiltration and permeability of heavy soils, thus reducing erosion and runoff,
• Improves water-holding capacity, thus reducing water loss and leaching in sandy soils,
• Supplies a variety of macro and micronutrients,
• May control or suppress certain soil-borne plant pathogens,
• Supplies significant quantities of organic matter,
• Improves cation exchange capacity (CEC) of soils and growing media, thus improving their ability to hold nutrients for plant use.
• Supplies beneficial micro-organisms to soils and growing media,
• Improves and stabilizes soil pH and
• Can bind and degrade specific pollutants.

Gardening with compost is just one of many ways you can improve the nutritional value of the food you grow while at the same time improving the health and appearance of the environment.

It’s just a good thing to do for yourself, your community and your planet.

My green beans are coming on strong! So in addition to canning and freezing them, we’re eating them fresh every way we can imagine.

I’ll be adding my favorite recipes as time permits.

Here’s the first one:

Green Bean Salad 4 to 6 servings

Cook about 3 cups of green beans cut to your liking.

Steam, boil, stir fry or dip in tempura batter and deep fat fry.

Drain well and toss while warm in freshly made French Vinaigrette Dressing or Lorenzo Dressing.

Basic French Vinaigrette Dressing

4 parts Virgin Olive Oil to 1 part vinegar, lemon, dry red wine or lime juice (if using wine, reduce oil to lower calories)

Salt and pepper to taste and add ¼ to ½ tsp prepared mustard

Herbs and garlic minced or whole—as much as you like.

Other possibilities: Worcestershire sauce, chili sauce, chutney, Roquefort cheese, etc. to your liking.

Place ingredients in a jar with a lid. Shake well until blended.

If made in advance of use, refrigerate and shake well before and during use.

Lorenzo Dressing

To the French Vinaigrette (above) add 3 tablespoons each of Chili Sauce and chopped watercress.Chill thoroughly then add
Chopped or grated onions, chives or pearl onions
Garnish with sliced ripe tomatoes topped with finely chopped fresh basil, capers and soft cheese (optional)
Serve over a bed of lettuce leaves.

Asparagus is a perennial. Once established it will faithfully produce year after year for 20 years or more with only minimal maintenance.

Location: Plant it on the North side of your main garden in full sun. It gets tall and can shade your other plants. It will be a permanent feature of your garden so plan carefully.

Soil: Asparagus likes a pH around 7; high N; moderate p and k. Take soil samples in the fall before planting the following spring and make appropriate amendments. Cultivate the soil deep, 16 inches or so and work in generous amounts of compost—composted manure is ideal.

Planting: In spring about the time daffodils bloom is good for most regions of the U.S. Fall and winter is best for the very warm regions—south and southwest.

Crowns—preferred: For Jersey Hybrid; dig a hole or trench about 6 inches deep, add an inch or two of compost and place the crowns 18 inches apart spreading the roots out evenly and cover with 2 inches of soil. As the ferns grow during the summer, add a couple of inches of soil. As the plants grow add a couple more inches of soil at a time until you have a raised berm. Do the same for open pollinated varieties such as Martha Washington except dig the holes or trenches 12 inches deep instead of 6.

Seeds: Same as crowns except plant the seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep and very slowly, as the plants grow, add soil until you have a bermed (raised) bed.

Good companions: Basil, parsley, tomato.

Bad companions: Onion, chive, garlic, leek.

Harvesting: Harvest crown plantings after 2 years—not before or you will kill or damage the establishment of your asparagus beds. For beds started from seed, wait at least 3 years before harvesting. First harvests should be light. Don’t over tax your plants just yet.
Care and Maintenance: Keep your beds free of grass and weeds. Generous mulching will help with weed and moisture management.
Mulch makes weeds and grasses easier to hand pull while holding moisture in the bed. Be careful of weeding with a hoe as going too deep will injure or destroy the underground stems.
Asparagus likes lots of water but don’t drown it. That’s where the raised berms come in.

Every fall after frost or when the ferns have turned brown or yellow, cut the ferns to about 2 inches above ground. Top dress the beds with a light application of fertilizer and 2 or more inches of compost or rotted manure; add fresh mulch and your beds are “bedded” for the winter.

In the spring, add another light application of fertilizer along with 2 or more inches of good compost and/or rotted manure and a light topping of mulch. You will add more mulch after harvesting has ceased. Stop harvesting when you notice the spear stems getting thinner. They should not be allowed to get thinner than a pencil. I don’t let mine even get that thin.

Diseases: Rust is the most common in older varieties and can be prevented by choosing rust-resistant varieties. Treat affected plants with mancozeb.

Pests: Asparagus Beetles are the most common pest and can be controlled with carbaryl, malathion, or rotenone while keeping the beds free of weeds and grass.

Growing Vining Plants on a Trellis saves space

Growing Vining Plants on a Trellis saves space

Here’s the photo I promised showing how I’m growing melons on a trellis. I have two trellis’ on this raised bed and I’m growing four varieties of melons, five varieties of peppers, chard, strawberries and green beans in a space of 4′ X 24′

The bed is 24″ high with side-walls made of poured steel reinforced concrete. I built two beds like this and like them so well that I’m going to build more. I hope to have that done in time to have a larger fall garden. The pictures on the right show some of the building process along with my “Country Home”.

Today I tied my melon vines to the trellis where I’m experimenting with keeping them out of the grass and weeds as well as away from Mama Opossum and Ricky Raccoon. This worked pretty well last year for the muskmelons but the water melons fell off due to their own weight. So, this year I’ve made a few modifications.

I made the trellises using cattle panels arched between two of my raised beds. (I’ll have a story to tell about the raised beds later.)

I’m training the water melons, crenshaws and cantaloupe to grow their vines up and over the arched trellises by tying their vines to the trellis. I placed bird netting over the cattle panels before training the vines to grow over so the fruit wouldn’t drop through the openings like it did last year. The netting, in concert with the trellis, provides a “grip” for the tendrils which also help to keep the vines growing where I want them to.

I’m very excited as all species are blooming profusly and my Sugar Baby Water Melons are setting on little melons galore.

I’ll try to get a photo of this to share with you.